The Campaign Mitt Romney Could Have Run

The malleability of Mitt Romney’s political persona was widely—and correctly, I think—viewed as a weakness of his campaign. He was too willing to say anything he thought his party wanted to hear, too unwilling to stake out firm and clear positions of his own. He was a follower, not a leader, a reflection of his party’s incoherence rather than a visionary who could unify its disparate parts, and he let a cautious consultant’s mindset—give the client what they want—drive his messaging. In the end, he left his party much the way he found it: leaderless, uncertain, and united mostly by opposition to common political enemies. 

But that very malleability, and Romney’s clear willingness to reshape himself and his campaign into various guises also makes it possible to imagine a very different Romney and a very different GOP presidential run—one that might still have lost, yes, but would have left the party better off in doing so.

Romney, the ideology-averse Massachusetts moderate who helped pass ObamaCare’s state-level predecessor, was always an awkward fit for the Tea Party-infused Republican party of 2012. And yet at the same time he was actually well-positioned to help shape the party’s thinking on any number of crucial issues.

RomneyCare, for example, didn’t have to be the awkward liability that it was. Romney could have used his experience building that program to position himself as the most knowledgeable Republican critic of ObamaCare, someone who has seen that system firsthand and knows now that it does not work as well as promised. He could have argued that RomneyCare was a worthwhile experiment, but not one that should be repeated.

On immigration, Romney ran as a staunch hawk who favored “self-deportation.” But his position wasn’t always so cringe-worthy. Just a few years earlier, Romney’s immigration views were closer to the party’s moderate, business-friendly wing: In 2007, he said on Meet the Press that he favored policies that would make it possible for illegal immigrants already in the U.S. to achieve citizenship or permanent residency. Rather than reverse himself, Romney could have expanded on his openness to immigrants, emphasizing their entrepreneurial drive and willingness to work. Yes, there would have been resistance from parts of the base. But it might have helped the GOP with Latino voters, who voted overwhelmingly for President Obama. An argument for a more immigration-friendly position, meanwhile, would have put him ahead of the curve with his party, which in the days since the election has taken a sharp turn in favor of immigration reform.

On taxes, Romney toed the Republican line by proposing large reductions in income tax rates. To ensure revenue neutrality, he said, he’d cut loopholes from the tax code, but never specified which ones. This was exactly backwards: Romney, a detail oriented technocrat with a deserved reputation as a minutiae-obsessed numbers guy, should have focused on tax simplification—pushing a detailed tax reform plan to the wonks of the world while emphasizing the ease, simplicity, and fairness of an overhauled tax code, perhaps while suggesting the possibility of new tax rate cuts down the road.

This is the sort of technocratic reform planning that should have played to the strength his consulting background. He even had a record to back it up: As Governor of Massachusetts, he cut numerous tax loopholes and deductions.  Instead, he came off looking like an almost cartoonishly generic Republican.

He fed that perception with his insistence on setting a floor for defense spending that would have resulted in a huge spike in the military budget. Again, his background as details-driven management consultant could have helped him: Romney could have made an argument for efficiency, for streamlining the defense budget and paring back waste on outside contractors and useless projects. Yes, Republicans are likely to remain more hawkish than their Democratic counterparts, but it’s possible they could have been swayed by an argument that Obama had mismanaged the military, allowing it to become another bloated bureaucracy rather than an efficient fighting force.

I’m biased, of course, by the fact that I favor of all of these positions myself. Lest anyone make the mistake of thinking that I believe these changes would have necessarily carried Romney to victory—well, I don’t. President Obama always had the edge, in demographic shifts, in the electoral college, in his incumbency, and even in the economic fundamentals, which, despite their real ongoing problems, have slowly improved.  Indeed, that’s part of the reason why Romney was so well suited to run this imaginary campaign: The time to take the biggest risks is when victory is already a long-shot.

And even if Romney had lost on this campaign, or something more like it, he would have left the Republican better off than when he started: more prepared for the demographic realities of the future, and more willing and able to offer both specific policies and a clearer vision of what government is and should be in the years to come.

All of which is to say that he could have done what the best and most effective consultants actually do: Arrived as an outsider to take stock of what’s working and what’s not, to deliver harsh news where it’s needed and make difficult decisions where leadership was previously unable or unwilling—but also to present a vision of success through reform. He could have been a voice, not an echo. 

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  • sarcasmic||

    I farted.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Yesterday evening was a bad one for me that way. Fortunately I was around a bunch of other men.

  • sarcasmic||

    I'm just sitting here in my cube with nothing to do but bask in my own stench.
    When I get light-headed I take a walk.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Unlike Stretch Armstrong, the Mitt Romney toy does not return to it's original shape.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Romney could not even articulate how his single strength (his supposed business acumen) would create jobs.

  • ||

    Magic. That's how government, completely divorced from a market where labor is demanded based on the need for it, creates jobs in all cases.

  • Rasilio||

    "RomneyCare, for example, didn’t have to be the awkward liability that it was. Romney could have used his experience building that program to position himself as the most knowledgeable Republican critic of ObamaCare, someone who has seen that system firsthand and knows now that it does not work as well as promised. He could have argued that RomneyCare was a worthwhile experiment, but not one that should be repeated."

    Except it is clear by the fact that this is one of the very few issues where he was consistant, even in the face of strong opposition from his base, that he simply does not believe this to be true. He believes that Romney care is working and is a good model for national level HC reform and that Obamacare just needs a few tweaks.

  • sasob||

    And it is one of the main reasons I did not vote for him and would not have done so even to defeat Obama. Romney sees nothing wrong with forcing people to buy insurance, either on a state level or federal level. That right there tells one how he really feels about individuals's liberties if they happen to conflict with the aims of the State - the liberties must come second or even last. Screw him.

  • ||

    Romney's had two chances now and failed both times, first in the primary and then in the general election. He gets to go in the closet with the Presidential losers now.

    "LaRouche won't stop with the knock-knock jokes!"

  • Loki||

    Nice Alt-Text.

    Duct taping Akin and Mourdock's mouths shut before they spouted their respective rape comments would have helped too. I realize that in a perfect world people would realize that just because a couple of dipshits who happen to be Republicans opened their stupid mouths and uttered some complete non-sense doesn't mean that all Republicans believe the same shit, but unfortunately the world isn't perfect. Instead it's full of morons who seem to have trouble grasping that concept.

  • Atmosk||

    Not to lend credit to other Republicans or anything.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Didn't Ryan say that even in rape or incest he believes that abortion should be illegal during the debate?

    That's isn't a giant leap from Murdock's statements and Ryan was on the ticket.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Didn't Ryan say that even in rape or incest he believes that abortion should be illegal during the debate?

    He believes that abortion should always be illegal, and not just during debates :)

    Poor word ordering there.

  • Loki||

    I don't know. I didn't watch any of the debates because I didn't feel like throwing up in my mouth every few seconds. That and I had already decided to vote for Johnson, so I didn't care what Obamney, Rombama, or their henchmen had to say.

  • General Butt Naked||

    He said that Romney agrees with abortion in the cases of incest or rape, and that he disagreed.

    They should just shut their traps about it and move on. Not that I would have voted for them anyways, but the issue is dead and it's costing them votes.

    "My religious beliefs are personal and have no bearing on how I'd govern" or something.

    Yes, the debates were terrible and I threw up a few times, and not just from the booze.

  • ||

    I think we could all use reminding of that from time to time.

    How often does a radical dem say something horrible, and the comments are all, "THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRATS ACTUALLY BELIEVE!" Hell, John asserts that every single democrat on earth supports unlimited tax-payer funded abortions, and if they say they don't, they're lying and they secretly do.

    The opposition are morons, not monsters (most of the time). Everybody on all sides of the issues need to remember that.

  • Almanian.||

    THIS IS WHAT JIM ACTUALLY BELIEVES!!!!111!

  • ||

    Well, JJ, the fact is is that politicians are pretty much all generally morons. Some of them are perspicace, but they are almost always pretty fucking stupid.

  • ||

    I should point out I was using hyperbole to describe John's penchant for mass generalizations, and those were not his words (before anyone comes in here screaming at me).

  • ||

    How often does a radical dem say something horrible, and the comments are all, "THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRATS ACTUALLY BELIEVE!"

    In all fairness, he is the president and figurehead of their party... :D

  • ||

    It's over anyway. Fuck Willard, and fuck Hussein I. Rand Paul/Justin Amash 2016.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Fuck revenue neutrality.

    CUT SPENDING.

    A LOT.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Face it P, we're getting higher taxes and higher spending. And the republicans are gonna deliver this steaming pile to the American people on a (imitation)silver fucking platter.

  • Randian||

    Don't blame the Republicans. Blame your neighbors.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Remember when I said I'd blame you last, Randian?

    I lied.

    *blames Randian right off the damn fiscal cliff*

  • Pro Libertate||

    "No, fuck you, cut spending."

  • General Butt Naked||

    Okay, we got two people saying it. All we need is about 299,999,998 more to go!

    Optimism, FTW.

  • Pro Libertate||

    It worked for Gingrich. Romney almost said "Newcular Titties" during the campaign.

  • Almanian.||

    "No, fuck you, cut spending."

  • Pro Libertate||

    "No, fuck you, cut spending."

  • General Butt Naked||

    I'm not yer pal, guy.

  • ||

    I'm not your guy, buddy!

  • Loki||

    I'm not your buddy, friend!

  • Pro Libertate||

    "No, fuck you, cut spending."

  • Rasilio||

    And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day,I said
    fifty people a day walking in saying "Fuck You Cut Spending" and
    walking out. And friends they may thinks it's a movement.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I think everyone should fax this to their Congressional representatives. And as their sole communication to the IRS next April.

  • kinnath||

    I am confused. I was told that using the crowd-sourced Pandering Android operating system (PandroidOS) for my Romenybot device would guarranty compatibility with the greatest number of voting units.

  • ||

    I lol'd.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Duct taping Akin and Mourdock's mouths shut before they spouted their respective rape comments would have helped too.

    These two clowns won their primaries. Mourdoch (or however he spells it) vanquished one of the most highly regarded "elder statesmen" of the party, to the horrified astonishment of people like David brooks.

    Did ANYTHING they said make sense, or are their slackjawed cretinous OCD constituents to blame?

  • The Other Kevin||

    We saw this coming months ago, in the primaries. Besides Paul and Johnson, who we liked but were quickly pushed to the fringe, there wasn't a single candidate who was inspiring or even competent. Then the Republicans went with the "next guy in line", as usual, and we got another Bob Dole/John McCain candidate. Stay tuned 3.5 years from now for another uninspiring loser as the GOP candidate.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Santorum is next in line. He wants and lives for it. Gawd told him it will be his.

    The GOP will finally find their "true conservative".

  • General Butt Naked||

    I'd vote for him just because I know a Santorum presidency would kill what little humanity you have left, shrike.

    And your head would explode, too, as well...

  • Randian||

    Rule #4 of Current Leftism: All Republicans are Rick Santorum. No Exceptions.

  • SugarFree||

    Yup. Just like how lukewarm Romney became a dangerous fanatic once he won the nomination.

  • ||

    If they actually nominate a dangerous fanatic, maybe it'll go all the way around the circle and they'll accept him.

  • SugarFree||

    Wymmyn throwing their uteri on the stage, screaming "All for you, Ricky" as they get straight married. "Cuddle my miscarriage!" shall be their cry!

  • NoVAHockey||

    you have a gift.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Compare the voting record of Paul Ryan and Santorum.

    Then try to find a difference.

  • Randian||

    Is Paul Ryan all Republicans now?

    Compare Massachusetts Mitt or John McCain to Rick Santorum and get back to me.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Pandering Android operating system (PandroidOS) for my Romenybot device would guarranty compatibility with the greatest number of voting units.

    Apparently, there are still a few bugs in the interface.

  • Rasilio||

    Yeah I hear they shipped with 47% of defects still open

  • Rasilio||

    And of course there were binders full of untested testcases

  • kinnath||

    The beta version in 2008 suffered a major set back, and introduction into service was delayed by four years.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day,I said
    fifty people a day walking in saying "Fuck You Cut Spending" and
    walking out. And friends they may thinks it's a movement.

    NICE.

    "If you wanna end the war, and stuff, ya gotta sing LOUD."

  • Russell||

    "He left his party ...united mostly by opposition to common political enemies. "

    Not to mention some fatal affronts to common sense.

  • American||

    Imagine this: You go into a 5th grade classroom and give the children an IQ test. The kids who score the highest get their own pie. Kids who score in the upper middle get a slice of pie. Kids who score in the lower middle get a stale cokkie. Kids who score on the bottom get a saltine cracker. In line with IQ tests, the kids who score the highest would be more likely to be white, asian, or jewish while the underachivers would be more likely to be hispanic or black. How do you the kids would react? That is our economic system, that is capitalism. It is not popular. That's why in order for capitalism to survive you need to be pragamtic. You need a small welfare state. You need to keep low-IQ immigrants out. You need to have a culture that encourages the less intelligent to work hard, rather than the existing 'it's my choice now you pay for it' culture, and that means having a culture war.

  • Bam!||

    "That's why in order for capitalism to survive you need to be pragamtic. You need a small welfare state."

    No you don't. Absent government, private charities would step in.

    And this isn't conjecture: Look who first steps up after natural disasters.

  • joey89924||

    Romney at the same time he was actually well-positioned to help shape the party’s thinking on any number of crucial issues.

    www.hqew.net

  • Rick Santorum||

    What a stupid article.

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  • nikea||

    This is the sort of technocratic reform planning that should have played to the strength his consulting background. He even had a record to back it up: As Governor of Massachusetts, he cut numerous tax http://www.cheapbeatsbydreonau.com/ loopholes and deductions. Instead, he came off looking like an almost cartoonishly generic Republican.

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