This week’s Republican convention in Tampa, Fla., is a political autobahn. Depending on how Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan play it, they’ll either gain some unfettered mileage in advancing their agenda with the voting public, or slam into a pole in a single-car crash.
Nothing stands in their way except themselves. Not even the liberal media can be used as an excuse — if only because Romney and Ryan should be prepared for it and should know how to handle it. Let’s look at a few things the Romney-Ryan ticket needs to accomplish in this critical week:
Ditch the Romneytron vibe: Even before the convention, party talking points were leaked, and — surprise, surprise — they precisely match the words that have been coming out of Romney’s mouth in interviews leading up to the convention. Things like “take-home pay” (a key talking point) are important, but they need to be repackaged a bit and humanized. It shouldn’t be difficult to illustrate a talking point with a short story — a couple of lines that explain why you personally care about something so much. This is real life, not a “West Wing” script from which Romney has to read verbatim.
Counter the “rich guy” narrative: Most people think that the rich were simply born into wealth and can’t relate to those who struggle to earn a living. It’s a narrative that benefits Obama and his class-warfare focus. Romney should explain where his inherited wealth and opportunities ended and his own efforts began. Many people are convinced that self-made wealth is just a myth to which only naifs subscribe, and that in doing so, they vote against their own self-interest in the faint hope of one day becoming rich themselves. The perception is that Romney landed on a pile of dough in the delivery room. Most people don’t know that Romney and his wife, Ann, lived in a cheap basement apartment in Salt Lake City when they were first married. That obviously doesn’t fit the Daddy Warbucks narrative, so Romney should explain to voters, in passing, the other ways in which he’s like them, and explain precisely how he managed to get rich through his own efforts.
Adapt and apply classic Reagan strategy: President Reagan admitted that he didn’t care what adults did in the privacy of their bedroom, and while he was on the side of life, he signed a pro-abortion bill as California governor and legislatively avoided the issue as president. While he didn’t actively alienate pro-lifers as president, he didn’t do anything substantial to advance their cause, either. A forthright and respectful way of dealing with the issue would be for Romney to state his personal beliefs, whatever they may be, and vow that as president he’ll follow Reagan’s example in keeping big government out of people’s private health matters. Rather than invoking Reagan’s legacy gratuitously, as so many tend to do at convention time, this would be a genuine and productive way of doing so.
Bring women voters aboard: Romney is lagging significantly behind Obama with women voters. The temptation may be to pander to them in attempt to win them over, but this is exactly what Romney must avoid. Starting with a non-interventionist approach to their private health decisions, as suggested above, he could go a step further by pointing out that women and men want the same thing — for government to leave them alone so they can thrive. It would be less interesting to hear Ann Romney’s perspective on her husband than, say, the views of women with whom Romney has partnered in roles that don’t involve raising his kids. Hearing how Romney has interacted with women over the years would give women voters a better perspective on whom they’d be electing. George W. Bush had longtime friends and associates Condoleezza Rice and Karen Hughes. Women voters need to hear from the same sort of well-educated, professionally minded women so that they can better understand who Romney is.
Get Paul Ryan off the caffeine and Red Bull: While Paul Ryan’s economic perspective is indeed refreshing, listening to him speak is like drinking from a fire hose. He sounds like a perpetually jacked-up male Ayn Rand who just recently escaped a life sentence in the Library of Congress. The age-old question posed to voters is, “Who would you want to have a coffee with?” In this case, voters are apt to say, “Not Paul Ryan,” because he’s already way too overjacked.
(Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and former Fox News host who writes regularly for major publications in the U.S. and abroad. Her book, “American Bombshell: A Tale of Domestic and International Invasion,” is available through Amazon.com. Her website can be found at http://www.rachelmarsden.com.)