By: Craig Shirley and Diana Banister
July 10, 2012 09:26 PM EDT
“Politics is motion,” John Sears, Ronald Reagan’s embattled campaign manager, was fond of saying. Sears may have been wrong about some things, but on this point he was indisputably correct.
It seems clear that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was “vacationing” in New Hampshire all last week because his campaign is stymied and does not know what to do next.
Sending out Ann Romney to go after President Barack Obama was a mistake. She is one of the campaign’s best assets — but to use her in a cynical attack to say that Obama’s campaign wanted to “kill” her husband wasted precious goodwill.
Still, it would be a mistake to jettison the entire Romney campaign staff, as some are now advocating. By hook and by other means, it helped get Romney the nomination. Besides, most campaign operatives are interchangeable. But it would be wise, as has been suggested, to layer in some seasoned hands from past winning campaigns. It might also be helpful to bring in serious policy people.
Mark Twain used to say “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.” Twain never saw the Romney campaign — if he had, he would most likely make the opposite assessment. Influential conservative publications and individuals, like Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News, have correctly identified the problem that Romney’s campaign is simply overmatched by Obama’s.
Part of Romney’s difficulty is that he is not always regarded as a serious individual. It would help if he started meeting regularly with GOP wise men like Ed Meese and James Baker, or important conservative and tea party leaders.
Reagan had the same perception problem in 1980 between the primaries and the convention. His campaign started to load up his plane with Henry Kissinger, Howard Baker, Ann Armstrong and others regarded as authorities by the Fourth Estate. He also met with New York Mayor Ed Koch. It helped convince the media — and the public — of Reagan’s seriousness and self-confidence.
Of more immediate concern is Romney’s tenuous hold over the GOP. He is now the weakest presumptive nominee since Gerald Ford in 1976 — and Ford had incumbency to help cloak his faults and rope in wobbly delegates. Romney has none of the trappings of power to help him seize control of the convention. So he needs to do so with persuasion.
Several hundred renegade delegates now support Rep. Ron Paul, former Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. They have the votes to raise havoc at the convention, introducing amendments from the floor for consideration. The national media will very likely be only too obliging to give them maximum attention, showcasing the divisions in the GOP.
What Romney needs to do is anticipate this by planning ahead — winning their hearts and minds long before this happens. He needs to get out on the road for a series of long, thoughtful policy speeches at key Republican presidential libraries and other places of GOP importance.
Romney could go to Abilene, Kan., for a speech on Dwight Eisenhower’s warning about the problematic growth of the military industrial complex — something that would resonate with conservatives today. He should go to the Bush Library in College Station, Texas, to talk about duty to country; to the Ford Library to speak on ethics; and to the Reagan Library to give a speech on principles.
But he should also go to Springfield, Ill., to commemorate Abraham Lincoln and stop at Reagan’s alma mater, Eureka College; then head for Gettysburg, Pa., and the Reagan Ranch in Santa Barbara, Calif.
All these sites provide commanding symbols. And yes, he should go to the Nixon Library, to discuss the past, present and future foreign threats to America.
The imagery would be powerful. Romney will then have the opportunity to talk about what Reagan called a “community of shared values” — making a strong case for the practicality of conservative governance, not just more blather thrown at Obama.
Americans are poised to throw Obama out. But they have to be convinced that Romney is a real alternative. Conservatives and Republicans also need convincing.
Opposing Obama is not a governing philosophy. Romney needs to make the case for why his ideas are better, why he better understands the country and the American people — and why it is time for a change.
In any campaign, there are three key resources: time, money and people. Romney has the time to right his ship, he certainly has the money and there are people who want to help, if only they are asked.
Romney and his campaign, and their heavy-handed allies, having won the nomination mostly by destroying rather than creating, are now faced with a void of their own making. The campaign is listless and stuck in primary mode, thinking it can play its way safe through the summer and fall.
What’s more, they have not figured out the difference between primaries and a general election — the difference between winning a nomination and winning a nation. One is episodic, the other strategic.
Part of this understanding needs to include stitching together the GOP. But it also requires the cessation of name calling. There are millions of disaffected Democrats in the country including Reagan Democrats, and it would help if GOP leaders stopped insulting these people. It lacks dignity.
Winston Churchill once refused a pudding offered at a London dinner party, saying the dessert “lacked a theme.” Romney has the time to develop a theme, craft the case and make this election meaningful.
Craig Shirley is the author of two biographies of Ronald Reagan, including “Reagan’s Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All.” His most recent book is “December 1941: 31 Days That Changed America and Saved the World.” He is president of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs. Diana Banister is vice president of the firm and a director of Citizens for the Republic.