Why is Mitt Romney down in the polls?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

More to the point, why was he up in the polls before the conventions? And what’s happened since the conventions to make a difference?

I’ll be brief. (“Thank goodness.” Really? I heard that.) The reason is that there has been a change in attitude among voters. That change in attitude is, itself, the result of two factors.

One factor is the cumulative effectiveness of Democrat statements to the effect that all Mitt Romney wants to do is give tax breaks to the rich. That’s his entire economic policy. Who would vote for that? I wouldn’t vote for that, would you? However bogus, the President and his campaign surrogates keep repeating that point every chance they get. And then the May video of Mitt talking to prospective contributors just reinforces that argument, the argument that a President Mitt Romney doesn’t care about you, unless you’re rich of course.

Mitt has to throw everything he’s got at reversing this misperception that the Obama campaign has created among voters. How? By telling voters that their beloved President is incompetent and that he’s lying to them, perpetuating a self-serving myth to get re-elected. It’s a lie that Mitt needs to confront head-on more effectively than he’s done already.

The other factor is different and far more difficult to combat. It’s not a lie, he needs to fight, a misimpression he needs to correct. It’s human nature.

Before the convention, voters knew we’re in trouble and were coming to the conclusion that President Obama wasn’t up to the task of turning things around. Still true and still true.

After the conventions, voters still understand that we’re in trouble, but they feel better about it because they believe we’re working our way out. Flickers of recovery, which have nothing to do with Obama economic policy, are the shiny things attracting media and voter attention. No one’s talking about our continuing economic and short-term, potentially devastating fiscal problems. They’re no longer “breaking news.” Optimism is replacing pessimism. President Obama has started to turn our collective frown upside down.

So what time is it? “What?” I asked you what time it is. “What difference does that make?” Com’on, work with me. It’s time for a sports analogy…

It’s the fourth quarter. Your home team’s backed up against its own goal line. With less than two minutes to play, you’re down by two touchdowns and a field goal. Your quarterback, Fiscal (a family name) “Wrong Way” Clifford (President Obama) has thrown more interceptions than completions. The chances you pull this out are near zero. Nothing has been going right, but then, on the very next play, Clifford sees something. Standing upright for a moment from being hunched over the Center, he turns to the network cameras and smiles, a sparkle flashing off one of his teeth, and calls an audible. “Hut, hut!” He drops back into his end zone… “Uh-oh!” ..and, just before being planted into the turf by three unguarded defensive linemen, unleashes a 60 yard bomb that bounces off one of your receiver’s helmet’s right into the hands of another one of your players, and suddenly you’re down inside the other team’s red zone. And you go nuts. You’re still going to lose, but man did that feel good.

What made the difference? A couple of minutes ago you were slouching on the couch, flicking barbeque-flavored Dorito crumbs off your NFL shirt. Now? Now you’re on the edge of your seat, back in the game! “Comeback,” you say to yourself. “I smell a comeback!” Should the Coach put in another quarterback? The experienced pro you brought in from another team? Hell no! But then Clifford fumbles a hand off and that’s that. You’re thinking maybe the Coach should have gone with the other guy, but now it’s too late.

So what else has changed voters’ minds? What genius campaign trick has done this? There isn’t any. It’s just that people can’t take too much doom and gloom. They, all of us, have a deeply felt need to be “up,” to believe that things are getting better. In fact, the worse things are, the more important any glimmer of hope.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have been making a largely negative case. “The President has no idea what he’s doing. The country’s going down the toilet. Elect me.” There’s only so much of that voters can hear before they tune out and look for relief elsewhere, in this case, from the incumbent. Negative messages are tiresome and are easily displaced by positive rhetoric, however accurate the former and full of crap the latter.

Solution? Mitt Romney has got to stay on message, but do it with hope. He has to out-inspire, to out-reassure President Obama, and that’s no easy trick. Talk straight to the unemployed. Tell them, to their faces, not to worry. That you’re going to put them back to work. Tell the under-employed not to worry, that you’re going help them find jobs with wages and salaries that respect their experience and expertise. Tell the people who are already working, that you’re going to protect their family income and help them grow their savings toward a retirement they can afford. Tell black Americans – even black Americans who, let’s be honest, really, really want to keep President Obama in office for reasons that have nothing to do with his job performance – that you’re going to work tirelessly to end the unconscionably high unemployment, higher than any other group, from which they have suffered way too long, and that is, in no small way, the result of the President’s lack of attention to their situation and failed economic policies. And so on. Be direct, and say it again and again in your speeches and in commercials that feature you, personally, talking to prospective voters.

To be clear, it’s not about the numbers, about telling America that you’re going to create 12 million jobs or reduce the national debt by some huge amount none of us can understand. Numbers are important, but this election isn’t a giant Board of Directors meeting with spreadsheets projected on everyone’s flatscreen TV. Say it. “You don’t have to like me – although I’m a good man and a nice guy and you should. I’m not long on bedside manner. What can I say? I am who I am. But you know what? I’m really good at what I do. Those of you who are unemployed, I’m going to put you back to work. Those of you who aren’t making enough to take care of your families, I’m going to help you make more money. Those of you, all of you, who are uncertain about your future on the job or in your small business, I’m going to lift that burden, not by using government to solve all our problems for us, but by unleashing the power of our private sector economy to build a stronger, more inclusive economy than any we’ve had before.”

Sure, “It’s about the economy, Stupid,” but also about encouragement, determination and passionate optimism. Barack Obama – with the help of Bill Clinton, the same guy who embarrassed the livin’ daylights out of our country by getting a you-now-what from an intern in The Oval Office – dangled just a tidbit of false hope in front of America, and he’s up five points in the polls.

Mitt?! Are you paying attention? “Passionate optimism.” Electing a President in troubled times is lot like following your Captain into battle. The art and science of instilling optimism in your troops, the American voter, is the other attribute of leadership, other than actually knowing what to do, that you need to perfect, in a hurry.

-Next Contestant

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