Time for Governor Romney to Close the Sale

by Pat Shortridge

Before some of our friends on the right go into complete meltdown and head for the panic rooms over recent polling data, we need to remind ourselves that victory remains within our grasp in the presidential election.    

But counseling Romney, as some conservatives have, to make his attacks on the president more personal, to really “take the gloves off” and go scaldingly negative, is even worse strategic advice than urging him to continue with his current overly cautious Obama-centric campaign.

After a year of negative arguments and hundreds of millions of dollars in candidate and third-party ads, we’ve reached the saturation point in attacking the president. In fact, it’s probably counterproductive, a fact borne out by Governor Romney’s net negative favorability rating. When you attack your opponent, you raise your own negatives along with his.

Romney’s real problem is almost unheard of for a politician: He doesn’t talk enough about himself and, in this case, his ideas. In the closing 35 days of the campaign, he should talk much less about the president and much more about his vision and solutions for America. If he does, he’ll win, and we can go about the business of saving America. The debate in Denver would be the perfect place to begin closing the sale.

I say this because, first and foremost, I believe conservatives have won the argument about the Obama presidency. Voters know the country is off track, things are getting worse, Obama has no plan to turn things around, and on and on. But that’s only Step One. Governor Romney must seal the deal by completing Step Two, presenting a governing vision and governing solutions.

Despite all the critiques of the Romney campaign, the leaked video from his Florida fundraiser, and the kerfuffle about a campaign shakeup, there hasn’t been nearly enough focus on the two more important news items about the Romney campaign from the past few weeks:

Governor Romney, in the leaked fundraiser video, explains that a detailed “discussion on a whole series of important topics typically doesn’t win elections.” 

On a Romney-campaign conference call with reporters, campaign pollster Neil Newhouse admitted, “I’m not sure voters understand the difference between the plans that Romney has and Obama has.”

The first item, I think, demonstrates the campaign’s core challenge: the need to tell voters, with some level of specificity, how exactly Romney would solve the huge problems facing the U.S., and make Americans’ lives better. In simple, bold, declarative terms, what’s his plan? He has 35 days to spell it out.

The second item, pretty darn alarming this close to an election, is directly caused by the first. At a certain point, you can’t just assert, “we’ll help the middle class,” and not explain how. You can’t talk about “my plan” if you don’t actually tell people what it is; the same goes for going on about “big differences.” 

Reading the recent comments of my friend and Romney senior adviser Ed Gillespie, it seems clear that the Romney campaign is indeed working to fix this. The consensus has finally emerged that it’s not enough for Governor Romney to sprinkle in a few more details and specifics — he has to present and campaign on a governing vision that lets voters understand how his conservative policy solutions will make their lives better.

Thirty-two years later, we of a certain age can still remember what Ronald Reagan campaigned on in 1980. He offered big solutions for big problems. Similarly, Governor Romney’s ideas have to be big enough and bold enough so voters will accept them as plausible solutions to problems our side has done a great job defining as very large. Since we have convinced Americans that our country faces a really big crisis, the Romney solutions can’t tinker around the edges or seem like an afterthought.

Finally, when times are tough and voters are worried about the future, a leader has to provide reasons for optimism. That hopefulness comes from a genuine belief that a president Romney will make things actually better, not just better than Obama.

In the next 35 days, Governor Romney and all those who support him should stop arguing the point we’ve already won and, and start making the case for a Romney presidency. That’s the critical element missing from this campaign and the key to victory.

— Pat Shortridge is a long-time GOP consultant and strategist who also currently serves as chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota.