A Tale of Two Conventions
By David E. Johnson, CEO, Strategic Vision
The Republican Convention is over. The last speech has been given and balloon dropped. The public relations challenge for Mitt Romney at the Republican Convention was to define himself as a person and tell Americans his vision for America. So did he succeed?
Mitt Romney entered the Republican Convention under unique circumstances. Despite being on the political scene since 1994, many voters believed that they didn’t know who he was as a person. Yes, they knew he was a businessman, had run the Olympics, was Governor of Massachusetts, and came from a famous Republican family. Besides that they knew little about him the person. He was not a person who fought in the political trenches over the years like a Richard Nixon. He was not seen as a visionary like Ronald Reagan.
The first step in humanizing Mitt Romney was Ann Romney’s speech. It was with limited television coverage of much of the Convention, a critical moment. In reaching her objective, Ann Romney filled in many blanks of who Mitt Romney was as a person. She humanized him for voters from the businessman to a loving and caring father and husband. Polls show that the speeches worked narrowing the gender gap and increasing Romney’s likeability numbers.
Ultimately Mitt Romney had to finish his public relations message himself. In his acceptance speech he went right to President Obama’s strength – people like him. Being the anti-Obama is not enough to win an election, just as it wasn’t for Ronald Reagan in 1980 over Jimmy Carter. Realized this and stole a page from the Gipper’s playbook. He spoke about how Americans were disappointed in Barack Obama as President after having so much hope when they elected him (just as Americans did in 1976 when they elected Carter in the aftermath of Watergate). Romney told voters that it was ok to like the President but be disappointed in him. Obama’s strength is people like him, if they can be persuaded that it is ok to like him but still vote against him, Romney has won half the battle.
Next in workman style, Romney defined himself as a person. This was in sharp contrast to the caricature that Democrats have portrayed. next he uttered the most dangerous question he could for Barack Obama, are you better off now then you were four years ago. Not content to just have the audience and Americans say no, he stated why the answer is no. Finally he addressed as George H.W. Bush once described it, “the vision thing”. Romney’s vision of America and one that voter’s desire is spelled J-O-B-S.
Now it is the Democrat’s turn. From a public relations standpoint they face different challenges. They have an incumbent President that is personally likeable. Yet likeability alone doesn’t win elections in the midst of a recession. If they try to claim that America is better off now than it was four years ago will Americans buy it? Indeed will their own leaders buy it? For that answer we can look at Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley who first said no America is not better off today than it was four years ago and 24 hours backtracked. So what must the Democrats do? Go after Mitt Romney and demonize him and Paul Ryan, and remind Americans why they like President Obama personally.
We have already seen this strategy in play. Videos of Mitt Romney running for Senate in 1994 were played in the tribute to the late Edward Kennedy. Speakers attack Romney as a flip flopper and too extreme. Several Democratic leaders have compared Paul Ryan to Hitler’s Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and even Hitler himself. Speeches are aimed at reviving the uncaring Bain Capital Mitt Romney. Democrats know with the economy in peril, they must destroy Romney as a plausible alternative. Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton were able to do to their rivals but the nation was prosperous. Jimmy Carter attempted it against Ronald Reagan in 1980 in the midst of a bad economy and Iranian hostages and failed. Yet they know that they cannot attempt to say it is morning again in America or that the nation is better off today. Indeed some Democrats even want to make Obama into Harry Truman and Romney into the aloof Tom Dewey but that may be going too far as it is hard ever to see President Obama no matter what your leanings as the scrappy Truman. Yet there is a risk in this strategy as it will hurt the President’s one strength his likeability.
Americans personally like President Obama even if they detest his policies. Democrats know that his strength against Romney who while more likeable now still trails the President in this department. Convention speeches by Michelle Obama and others are designed to show that side of the President and give voters a reason to vote for the nice guy. And the speeches are working in reminding voters of why they first liked Obama. The problem is that with some of the harsh attacks against Romney by Democrats, the President’s negatives are also rising which means just as with Jimmy Carter in 1980 that if enough isn’t done at the convention to keep him likeable, the strident attacks against Romney may create a meanness issue for the President that will give voters the ultimate reason to reject him. Democrats and the President must walk a fine line in achieving their first convention goal while maintaining their second.
Published: September 5, 2012 By: