Romney vs. Obama’s Rebranding: Ryan Selection Is a PR Move
By David E. Johnson, CEO, Strategic Vision
In presidential elections, the selection of a vice presidential candidate is usually worth a few days of positive media coverage unless the choice is a disaster (see Thomas Eagleton in 1972). Rarely does the selection swing an election. The only time since World War II was in 1960 when Lyndon Johnson helped John Kennedy carry the South and the election. Yet in Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney was selecting to achieve more than just a few days of positive media coverage. He was seeking to rebrand himself and force President Obama to rebrand himself.
Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012 has been risk adverse. His entire public relations strategy has been to brand himself as a successful businessman and problem solver. In many ways he has almost defined himself as a technocrat. Yet Americans don’t elect technocrats. They vote on likeability and vision. So far the Romney campaign has been failing in this. Rather the opposition has been defining Romney. As such he has fallen behind in the polls and is one of the most unlikeable presidential candidates in recent history. Just like a corporation often has too, so do candidates have to rebrand and we are seeing the new and improved Mitt Romney brand. One that includes risks and a vision.
In selecting Paul Ryan to be his running mate, Romney took a risk. Ryan’s budget ideas are unpopular with many voting blocs and will be a major issue for Democrats. One can see the attack commercials already making it more a Ryan/Romney rather than Romney/Ryan ticket. The safe thing to have done would have been to select a Rob Portman or Tim Pawlenty. Yet Romney opted to go with Ryan shedding his risk adverse strategy. Already the media is beginning to re-evaluate him. A similar thing happened in 1996 when Bob Dole selected his longtime nemesis, Jack Kemp as running mate and then squandered his opportunity. So what should Romney’s next steps be in his rebranding?
Unlike Dole, Romney must use his nomination speech at the Republican Convention to define himself as a person and his vision for America. Voters will not respond to him just saying he isn’t Barack Obama. Like Ronald Reagan in 1980 or Bill Clinton in 1992, he must tell Americans who he is and what his vision for a better America is. With Paul Ryan and Ryan’s budget as his dual running mates, he has taken a step in that direction. He is going to have to challenge President Obama to present his own plan of deficit reduction and recovery. We can expect the media to assist him in this. Over the next week we can expect the pundits and columnists to begin calling on President Obama to present his plan for deficit reduction.
This latter step in the Romney public relations and rebranding may actually be the easiest. So far the campaign has been one devoid of big ideas. If the President responds with his own plan, Romney can then paint the election of stark choices and contrasts. If the President doesn’t respond, Romney can call the President the risk adverse candidate and himself the candidate of vision.
Mitt Romney may not take these steps. But one thing is certain this is his best and last chance to rebrand himself with voters. If he doesn’t take it the Ryan gamble will be for naught and might be remembered from a branding standpoint as the Ford Edsel rather than his father’s Rambler.
David E. Johnson is the CEO of Strategic Vision LLC, a public relations agency headquartered in Atlanta, GA. He has experience in both public relations and political communications having worked on Bob Dole’s 1988 Presidential Campaign. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org