Rather than wallow in the sadness of a failed campaign, the turnaround artist pulled together an even better team — one which learned its lessons.
by Scott L . Vanatter
Four years ago over dinner my wife and I dissected why Mitt Romney and his team failed to win the 2008 GOP nomination. Relatively quickly we came up with five M’s — five areas of failure. I wrote a piece titled, “The Five M’s of Why Romney Failed to Win (This Time).” We posited that if he was the turnaround artist he was supposed to be, Romney should be able to fix his campaign problems of four years ago.
Here are the five areas which we determined he needed to address.
1. His Message
2. His Manner
3. His Mormonism
4. His use of Metrics
5. His Management
Now four years later, Team Romney’s turnaround in these same five M’s may well be what propels him to 270 Electoral College votes — if not many more. Below I will briefly explain the problematic issue of four years ago, then discuss how Romney has improved.
In his first run for the nomination Romney did not craft a compelling way to talk about his impressive back-story – that of an accomplished leader in business, sports and politics.
Four years ago, he would simply resort to listing his accomplishments. This time he and his team focused on telling the larger story of Obama’s weak economy, and a jobless recovery – and how he has a vision and a plan to fix it. Just prior to Romney’s first debate with Obama, a key conservative commentator strongly complained that Romney’s campaign needed a complete overhaul.
However, in his first debate with Obama, Romney showed that he and his team learned the lesson that a campaign was at least as much art as science. Most commentators on the right and left acknowledge he handily won most all of the GOP primary debates, and dominated the first debate with the sitting president. Everyone could tell this time that he and his team had learned to deliver a better message.
In his run for the 2008 GOP nomination, it was a fair criticism that Romney came across in what could plausibly be attacked as an inauthentic manner.
Not many commentators these days are even mouthing the accusation. It wouldn’t fit. Not now. Romney has exhibited a much more comfortable manner and style.
Last time Romney resorted too often to MBA-speak. No matter how accomplished and desirable this management/communication style is in actually getting things done leading in, e.g., corporate meetings, in an Oprah-touchy-feely world where Bill Clinton and even Bush 43 felt our pain, a modern candidate for president still needs to connect. This time Romney has done much, much better.
Of the several problems of Romney’s 2008 effort, Mormonism was probably the least deadly.
This time enough evangelical primary voters overcame any unease and voted for a Mormon. Romney’s deft but firm touch on religion has given America confidence that it is his sterling character which is paramount, not his personal religious beliefs. In the public square, perhaps America is showing again that it is the content of a candidate’s character and the political ideas he espouses which is important to them, not any religious doctrine the candidate believes and practices.
If Romney loses, there will be the inevitable polemic commentaries, polls and studies which will evaluate the impact of Mormonism on the Electoral College outcome. If he wins, the studies will be that much more nuanced and assuring about America. As some congratulated America on electing a Black man, so others will congratulate America on electing a Mormon. Though, after the fact, both of these realities will seem – again, in retrospect – to be not that big of a deal. It will have become obvious to everyone, now, that we have progressed.
The first time Romney ran, he depended on metrics too often as his message.
Just as Romney has improved his manner (which was judged to be too impersonal last time), he has now overcome his natural tendency to rely on ‘metrics’ (stats, lists, citations, etc.) this time. His reliance on citing metrics four years ago did not connect him with primary voters. Numbers, and even lists of accomplishments, paint only part of a picture — and they lack the human side. In his first campaign, he missed an opportunity to connect in an ‘Ask Mitt Anything’ forum. A young boy who suffered from autism asked Mitt a question. Romney addressed the metrics of how much money was being spent by NIH, then pivoted into his policy on Stem Cell research. One can imagine Bill Clinton or Bush 43 first hugging the boy, commenting on how challenging it must be, and then going on to a personally relevant answer which may have included a statistic.
This time Romney did not miss such opportunities to comfort, for example, a Gulf War Veteran questioner in one of the GOP open forum primary debates. Rather than use metrics as his message, this time he uses metrics to support his message.
In every unsuccessful run for office the case can be made that the campaign management team failed their candidate. Yes, the case can also be made that the managers did the best they could with the “talent” — the Candidate – they were given.
“Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” Rather than wallow in the sadness of a failed campaign, the turnaround artist pulled together an even better team — one which learned its lessons. As the saying goes: “Take Risks. If you win, you are happy. If you lose, you are wise.” Romney is wise. He licked his wounds, and set out to correct his and his campaign’s deficiencies.
This time Romney and his campaign managers have crafted a message, and a focused-strategy on which to bet the farm – Obama’s weak jobless economy. Romney’s personal strength is his very accomplished, metrics- and results-oriented management expertise. He dives into both the details and the big picture of a problem. This time he has attracted a talented team — and is managing them to success.
(By the way, one could make the case that Obama and his team ran into a perfect storm opportunity in 2008. A war-weary country saw a unique opportunity to take a calculated risk on a widely-reputed very smart Black man. In other words, Axelrod and Plouffe lucked into the perfect storm opportunity of an ideal Candidate. This Candidate, however, turned out to be a much better campaigner than actual leader. They got him elected, but together their promise of Fundamental Change fundamentally failed. The disappointing reality is that Obama was inept at changing practically anything. His managers, even more impotent.)
Losing one’s first run for the presidency need not be a deal killer for future campaigns — quite the opposite. A first run for the highest office in the land can often serve as a dress rehearsal, with very little downside. Many football teams do not win their first Super Bowl. But excellent NFL organizations, with some luck (“Luck is what happens when Preparation Meets Opportunity”) can build on the experience and make it back to the Big Show. The best organizations with the best team — and the best luck — win. As we know, many good Super Bowls are decided in the fourth quarter, or the last two-minutes, and even sometimes on the final play. Romney has run well in all four quarters of the game, has not incurred too many self-inflicted injuries, and is now either going to win a close one, or score a plethora of points in the last 30 seconds. If George Will, Dick Morris, and Michael Barone are right, we could have another Heidi Game on our hands where many points are scored by the winning team, but out of eyesight of a nationally-televised gone dark. If they are right, then Nate Silver has his ground covered, by confessing that most polls are biased against Romney. We shall see.
He is seen my many as a smart, uniquely talented, accomplished ‘turn around’ guy who knows how to get things back on track. Prime evidence is the turn-around he has performed on his own campaign – not to mention his public record of turnaround success — and even the obvious growth he has achieved in his own (wholesale and retail) “manner.”
Come Tuesday, America may well hire him to bring his prodigious expertise and a new governing team to “turn around” the country’s low trajectory. If the county does hire him, the case can be made that America now has a Real Hope that Romney can bring Real Change.