2012 Message Can’t Be Boring

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011 and is filed under Blog

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Mitt Romney is probably feeling pretty good right about now. He’s been running for President long enough to be the de facto front runner which carries more downsides than upsides at this point. A persistent problem he’s had to face is that he’s just too boring. The reaction of a typical crowd of the GOP faithful is something mixed between “sure, he’s smart but he’s also distant,” and “yeah, he sounds conservative but how long is that going to last?” To be fair, Romney isn’t a far leftist even though he’s not been a consistent conservative in the past.

But just why might he be feeling good? Well, he’s no longer the most boring candidate in the race. That distinction must be awarded to Jon Huntsman, a yet-to-be-defined candidate surrounded by some of the top veterans of McCain presidential campaigns. Huntsman has a particular allure right now because he’s a fresh face, someone who’s not been publicly working for the past 6 years on a national campaign. However, when it comes to frankly nailing down the issues and explaining where he stands, Huntsman needs to switch from diplomat mode to candid fellow American. It’s certainly an image his jean jackets and Reaganesque campaign announcement venue are trying to reinforce.

In a smart move the Huntsman campaign has placed videos on the campaign website’s homepage featuring the candidate talking about important issues. People don’t care about reading white papers, and short videos are a great way to share where you stand on the issues. But, in those videos you’ve got to connect with voters and use the language they use. In tackling the biggest issue of the 2012 cycle, Jobs, Huntsman starts his video with the following line:

“Jobs will be a function of our relative competitive position as a country. . .”

Uh, what did he just say? (I actually went back and replayed that first line when I watched the video for the first time.) Jobs will be a function of our relative competitive position as a country? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? The average American catching that on the move during their busy day is going to ask “Okay, does that mean I will or I will not get my job back if you are our next President?”

I’m not underestimating the intelligence of the American people. Far from it. What Huntsman said is true as an academic description of one of the challenges we face as a nation in creating jobs. But as a prescriptive statement offering a solution, or as an identity statement sharing voter sentiment, it’s worthless.

The American people are right now looking for a candidate who 1) understands their problems, and 2) has a pointed message about solving that problem. They are not ripe for demagogues to dupe them into believing shallow solutions exist for deep problems (recent elections have proven that), but they want something simple and straightforward in a candidate.

Huntsman is a new candidate on the national scene, and there is reason to expect that his message about jobs and other issues will sound less wonkish and more straightforward in the future. But until a major candidate is able to smartly identify themselves with the problems of the American people and address them in a way that sounds like their neighbor talking about solving a problem in the neighborhood, Republicans are going to lose valuable message time and opportunity. The message in 2012 can’t be boring if conservatism is to make a comeback and carry the White House.