Election 2012

As Consultant in Chief, Mitt Romney Would Rely on the Advice of Other Consultants


Earlier this year, I argued that Mitt Romney's time as a consultant was key to understanding how he thinks of the world and how he'd govern if elected president.

Romney started as a management consultant at Bain and brought consulting tools to the private equity offshoot he founded, Bain Capital. He continued to rely on the consultants toolkit during his time as governor of Massachusetts. 

Here's another data point suggesting that Romney would not merely govern in the style of a big consulting firm, but with the explicit involvement of the consulting world's biggest names: A New Yorker article reminds us that in 2007, The Wall Street Journal caught Romney saying that as president he would hire top-tier consultant groups to help run the executive. Describing how he would organize the White House, he said:

"I would probably have super-cabinet secretaries, or at least some structure that McKinsey would guide me to put in place." He seems to catch a note of surprise in his audience, but he presses on: "I'm not kidding, I probably would bring in McKinsey. . . . I would consult with the best and the brightest minds, whether it's McKinsey, Bain, BCG or Jack Welch."

Romney really likes data, and thinks that with enough data, solutions will always present themselves:

 "I used to call it 'wallowing in the data,'" Mr. Romney continues. "Let me see the data. I want to see the client's data, the competitors' data. I want to see all the data."

This is not only a description of his approach to business. It sums up his political outlook: "You may ask me questions about topics that I haven't studied in depth. I'll be happy to give you my assessment of what I think at this point. But before I would actually make a decision on a very important topic, I would really study it in depth."

This is the fundamental thing to understand about how Mitt Romney would approach policymaking: He may have some mildly conservative instincts — he's hawkish, he's basically pro-business — but ultimately his core belief is that with enough data, enough information, he and a team of sufficiently smart and enterprising people can figure out how to make the machine of government work smoothly and simply. This is why, when you drill down on his policy preferences, they tend to amount to making tweaks and adjustments rather than overhauling the current system. He's a systems guy, a flowchart visionary and obsessive administrative tinkerer who thinks that if you just line up the boxes and arrows in the right order, everything can be managed. Describing him as a liberal or a conservative or a moderate doesn't really capture what he is: a technocrat, in pretty much the purest sense.