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An echo of tedium

January 7, 2012
Dr. David Turner

Mitt Romney's campaign has been grounded on a set of platitudes, filled with red, white and blue appeals and images of his patriarchal solidity. He is grounded in an earlier, simpler America, one imagined in the best consulting firms. In an ear of personal appeals, Romney utilizes an earlier motif of images and cliches. When viewing a Romney ad, you could hearken back to "morning again in America," Reagan's 1984 theme or Jimmy Carter's "why not the best" in 1976.

But not surprisingly, he borrows liberally from his father's unsuccessful effort in 1968. George Romney's campaign, and analyst tend to forget, may have succeeded had it not been form an unfortunate remark of being "brainwashed" after a trip to South Vietnam. Romney the elder had a superior campaign team, John Deardourff, Peter Kaye and Walter DeVries who simply were partially done in by bad luck. But they tried to construct a unity message in a volatile time. A campaign poster in New Hampshire said it all "The way to stop crime is to stop moral decay." With an electorate that wants straight talk, this approach is a tad unsatisfying. But in 1966 and 1967, it seemed just the ticket.

But Romney is fortunate that none of his potential opponents in the GOP are well financed. George was up against Richard Nixon who had cash and an even better operation. Mitt faces no such equivalent in 2012. But like his father and any other candidate for that matter, he is a hostage to events and the Democrat President Barack Obama will be well financed and managed. He bases his whole campaign around his corporate skills and his personal decency. This can be successful but it is also risky. Mike Dukakis' 1988 theme of "competence and not ideology" succeeded in the primaries but his message was savagely worked over by Lee Atwater's sappers.

Romney has skillfully beaten back most of the flavors of the week beginning with Michelle Bachmann and ending with Newt Gingrich. But with the sole exception of Rick Perry none has cash and were primarily products of debates. If you listen to Romney, he is attempting to re-style George W. Bush's "compassionate conservative" message of 2000. And he could succeed if conditions remain the same. If Obama's luck does not hold, Romney could win on the candy and flowers campaign. But if he is locked in an uphill position, Romney might not be so fortunate.

Jimmy Carter in 1976 was literally the fad of that year. Yet once anointed by the Democrats, Gerald Ford went about painting Carter as a liberal, and despite all the woes Republicans suffered between 1973-1976, the GOP almost won. Carter was not good at specifics, building a campaign a mile wide and an inch deep. In 1980, Ronald Reagan ran a tough conservative effort, and all of Carter's efforts to negatively define the Californian's campaign backfired.

Romney has exposed his opponents, thanks to allies, as extremist in one way or the other. But in doing so he has attacked the core of Republican enthusiasm and inadvertently helped Obama. Whether or not it is fair, Obama's advisors will attempt to link Romney to the Republican Congress and to the Tea Party.

Newt Gingrich has a point when he allows that a firm conservative might start out at an initial disadvantage, but could build a campaign on what Reagan called, "bold colors." Romney is all pastels, inoffensive but not interesting. No doubt those strongly against Obama will rally to any Republican nominee. But independents eager to find a choice might find Romney a tedious echo.



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