PARIS — Mitt Romney’s biggest problem in this race isn’t that he’s wealthy — it’s that he lacks the sort of passion that can only be forged by trial and tribulation. It’s one thing to articulate the principles of free-market capitalism and limited government as the solution to the country’s current woes, but they have little effect when they can’t be strapped to an emotional rocket and delivered in surgical strikes straight through voters’ hearts.
Politics will always be about connecting with people. The most ingenious political policy is useless as ink on paper. To be of any value, it requires someone with the ability to understand it, internalize it, believe it with every fiber of his being, distill it into rhetorical power packs, and deliver them with pinpoint precision.
Instead, what we’re seeing with Romney is a sort of line-item delivery of his plan in a manner consistent with his financial technocrat background. At the Republican convention, Clint Eastwood’s chastising of an empty chair stood in stark contrast to Romney’s performance, if only because Eastwood seemed to have a greater attachment to that chair than Romney had to the words emanating from his mouth.
I understand that fiery rhetoric is not Romney’s style, and that he’s more laid back. Unfortunately, in this economy, few among the voting public have the luxury of feeling that way. This is precisely where Romney’s biggest disconnect with voters lies, and it’s this striking emotional disparity that must be bridged prior to Election Day.
The question voters will ask themselves this time isn’t, “Which one of these guys would I want to have a beer with?” but rather, “Which one would I most want to rant with after a few beers?” Voters are left with the distinct impression that Romney would sit there sipping Diet Coke and checking his stocks on his BlackBerry.
Moreover, with polls consistently showing a tight race, the most important factor is the ability to actually get voters off their behinds on Election Day. The election could very likely come down to which candidate has the best GOTV (Get Out The Vote) ground campaign. Romney must realize he’s up against a formidable opponent in former community organizer Barack Obama. GOTV strategies rely on targeting specific groups and communities, members of which are often enticed more by emotional pleas than by raw data or facts.
The only feasible way to counteract such a strategy is through an appeal to universal values that resonate with all voters, regardless of how they might be demographically categorized for campaign targeting purposes. But the style of message delivery is just as important as the message itself. A candidate needs to connect on an emotional level with the people he’s trying to reach, then explain how his values and ideas have led him to this point and will serve to raise everyone up if he’s elected. This should flow without rehearsal and be on a candidate’s tongue and in his heart at any given moment.
And if a candidate can’t do that, then he needs to be able to fake it on an Academy Award-winning level. Because on Election Day, sometimes it’s not just enough to represent one half of a choice — even when polls give you the advantage. While it’s true that you only need to beat the other guy to win, sometimes the other guy will still beat you, regardless of polling numbers, if he strikes that emotional chord better than you do and gets people motivated to sashay to the voting booth.
Romney now needs to focus entirely on connecting with people rather than on any policy documents, financial statements or numbers. Because regardless of what anyone thinks of the words coming out of Obama’s mouth, it’s clear that he either believes what he says or is a formidable performer — or perhaps both.
Policy that resonates universally, delivered via emotional vector, will move voters on Election Day and decide the outcome of this race. Appealing to Americans on a universal, emotional level is the only way to trump the divisive and selective GOTV targeting by the left.
(Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and former Fox News host based in Paris. She appears frequently on TV and in publications in the U.S. and abroad. Her website can be found at http://www.rachelmarsden.com.)