Listen to this article
Mitt Romney, I feel your pain. South Carolina was ugly and Florida is not looking any prettier. You only run well among voters with graduate degrees and among those with incomes above $200,000. America’s white working class, the core of the Republican party, is really not into you.
Be concerned, but do not despair. You are not the first Ivy League Republican to have his back against the wall. In late May 1988, when George H.W. Bush was running for the White House, the then vice-president was 17 points down to the Democratic candidate, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis.
There were five months to go before the vote. History was not on Mr Bush’s side. He had already served two terms under Ronald Reagan and Americans usually transfer control of the White House to the “out” party after two terms. Also, Mr Bush, like you, was not graced with the “common touch”.
Our campaign staff set to work. The “opposition research” operation worked 24 hours a day. We helped to define “who” Mr Dukakis was – in the eyes of Middle America, too liberal – and tell Mr Bush’s life story in a way that made him admirable and accessible. The rest is history.
This brings me back to you, governor. Where should “Romney 2012” go now? For starters, hammer home the stories that make Newt Gingrich look overreaching and odd. In others words, the things that kept him out of the money in Iowa and New Hampshire should be retold.
His credit account at Tiffany’s, his million dollar-plus relationship with Freddie Mac and his resignation as House Speaker should be made synonymous with the name “Gingrich”. Vividly depict the perils that a Gingrich presidency portends for the party in November and for the country. Portray him as volatile and erratic. Point out how he blew a gasket and shut down the government in a fit of rage, after he was seated in the back of Air Force One en route to the Rabin funeral. As the late Robert Teeter, pollster to Mr Bush, put it: “Gingrich makes a great backbencher.”
Do not talk about his marriages. Leave that to surrogates. But you should punch back hard. When someone brings up your investments in the Cayman Islands, talk about how Mr Gingrich invested money overseas. Let your confidants highlight his friend and white-knight billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s ownership of gambling operations in Macau and raise the question of how Mr Gingrich will respond to Chinese competition when Mr Adelson, the man who drives the Gingrich super-Pac, profits from the Chinese.
Stop challenging folks to $10,000 bets at debates. Don’t talk about how you do not have a job. Stop calling corporations people. Let Americans into your life. Take pride in your story. Talk about what Bain built, companies as American as apple pie, such as The Sports Authority, Staples and Dunkin’ Donuts. The Sports Authority has 450 stores in 45 states, employs thousands of people, and puts smiles on kids’ faces.
Acknowledge you were born with advantages. Anyone who looks at you or listens to you knows you were born on third base. So, describe what is was like to grow up in a loving and demanding family. Your dad helped build the auto industry. You worked for what you have.
Talk about those nights where you were not sure if your dreams would become realities. Let people know how you feel a special responsibility to your wife and to your kids not to let them down. Don’t get caught up in the class-warfare debate. The working class and the party need to be reassured you care about the things they care about. They care about America and their families. They worry about the future. Let them know that you care, too.
Looking at the mirror will not get you elected. There are not enough people out there who remind you of your Harvard Business School buddies, to win. Anyway, those guys usually live in liberal states. Like it or not, the white working class is now the heart of the party. Although Barack Obama won the election, the white working class voted Republican by 18 points.
You cannot alienate this key demographic. You will need plenty of their votes if you are to put down Mr Gingrich, win the nomination and beat Mr Obama. All of this is do-able. The sands have not yet run out. But you will have to stick to the script and fight.
The writer was opposition research counsel for George H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign