In response to his nickname, "Give 'em Hell Harry," President Truman was reputed to have said, "I never did give 'em hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell." In 1980, Ronald Reagan rallied his winning coalition using that same strategy, and legions of Republicans, Democrats and Independents responded.
Unfortunately, Mitt Romney too often seems incapable of much more than putting on that goody two shoes Ward Cleaver smile of his and merely giving them 'heck' — which is not going to cut it in 2012 against a slash-and-burn campaign like Barack Obama's.
Romney has been running for president for at least the last five years, and who knows how long he planned to run before that? One might think that he would have learned from studying past campaigns what to say and how to say it. He should have learned from the winners in both parties (Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama), as well from the losing efforts (Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Bob Dole, John Kerry and John McCain). He should not have to be coached about what he believes. He should know in his gut, as Reagan did, what to say and how to say it.
Romney touched a raw nerve with the Obama supporters in the media last week when he defended the First Amendment and vilified the Obama administration for its hand wringing apologies to the tyrants and crazies in the Middle East. This earned him a gold star with those of us who long for the days when the Gipper truly gave 'em hell.
Now comes this grainy video, with two minutes missing, leaked to left-wing Mother Jones magazine by none other than the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, showing Romney speaking at a fundraiser last spring. In it, he speaks the unvarnished truth, albeit "inelegantly," about the desire of the Obama administration to create a permanent Democrat voting majority through dependence on government — a kind of living manifestation of the creepy "Julia" cartoon the president was so proud to have posted on his website a few months ago.
So far, Romney has not backed down on the truth he spoke on that video. But will he continue to double down with this valid attack on Obama, employing the same go-for-the-jugular tactics his campaign used against Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and anyone else who threatened his ascendency in the primaries? Time will tell, but it is curious that, for a man who persuaded people to invest millions of dollars into his business ventures over the years, Romney sometimes seems almost timid in his approach to this campaign.
Theories abound as to why this is. Many conservatives blame the campaign's chief strategist, Stuart Stevens, a jack-of-all-trades gadfly who has worked for such "it's my turn" losers as Dole and McCain. Stevens is drawing a lot of heat this time around for apparently believing that the anemic economy will automatically turn voters away from Obama's heavy-handed policies and hand the election to Romney. This is a common misconception among overpaid consultants and inside-the-beltway advisors, who truly believe that the way to win independent voters is to moderate and play nice. How many races do these people have to lose before they examine the premise of their campaign playbook?
If Mitt Romney wants to win this election, he should shut the door on Stuart Stevens and sit down with his running mate for advice. Paul Ryan is a winner, and the de facto leader of the next generation of conservatives. It would be a terrible waste if it turns out that Romney put Ryan on the ticket as window dressing, a kind of red meat bait for conservative activists, as John McCain did with Sarah Palin, while running a milquetoast presidential campaign of moderation and appeasement.
I believe that Mitt Romney will win this election, but like Harry and the Gipper, he needs to make the sale.
© 2012 by Doug Patton - Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself more often than not. Now working as a freelance writer, his weekly columns are syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Astute supporters and inane detractors alike are encouraged to email him with their pithy comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. For info on using his column at your publication or website, please email Cari Dawson Bartley at email@example.com.