TAMPA–The pundits are weighing in on how GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney will have to give the Speech of His Life Thursday night when he accepts his party’s nomination for president. They talk as if he’s actually way behind in the race, when he’s really very close and is preparing an avalanche of ads once his nomination is official.
But this election is going to be tight, and Romney has a more difficult path than President Obama does in winning the Electoral College, the only poll that counts. He needs to persuade the 30 to 40 million people who will watch him Thursday night that they should fire President Obama and hire him instead.
So, here are four things he needs to say and do this week:
Let us know who you are. The famously reserved Romney has kept his head down so far and has only begun to open up about his life. He needs to share with the American people who he is, which will mean talking about his faith, his family, and himself in ways he hasn’t so far. That doesn’t mean some Clintonesque “I feel your pain” statement; that’s not him. (“I am what I am,” he said in a recent interview.) But Mitt, you need to “humanize yourself,” as that song by the Police goes.
Let us know what you’ve done. Romney needs to talk about his experience at Bain Capital, running the Salt Lake City winter Olympics, and being governor of Massachusetts as part of a narrative of him as a Problem Solver. He needs to be honest about Bain and its role as an agent of corporate change, and level with people as to why the failure of some businesses is important to the success of the economy as a whole. He also should explain how his accomplishments as governor of Massachusetts, including health care reform, qualify him to be president of the United States.
Tell us what you stand for. Romney needs to get more specific about where he wants to take the country. He needs to explain how cutting taxes and regulations—approaches that have been tried before, with mixed results—will actually help create 12 million jobs over the next four years. He also needs to give us one or two examples of budgetary items he’d cut or deductions he’d eliminate to show he’s ready to reduce the deficit, which his tax cuts would actually exacerbate. Otherwise, people won’t believe he’s serious.
Show us you’re your own man. One of Romney’s biggest problems is that he’s spent the entire primary season pandering to the more extreme elements of the Republican Party. Romney needs a Sista Souljah moment where he takes on some of the extremists in his party in public before a national audience. How about Rep. Todd Akin’s stand that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape or incest? He’s already asked Akin to get out of the race; now he needs to put more daylight between him and extremists like Akin—and his own running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, whose position on abortion is virtually identical with Akin’s. Sure, some of them may boo or even walk out, but it would establish Romney as a leader in ways he’s never shown before.
That’s my two cents of advice. This is a great opportunity for Romney to communicate with the people he hopes to lead. Thursday will give us a good sense of whether he’s really up to that job.