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Contentions

Marketing Mitt Romney

People already depressed about the low quality of debate in presidential primaries ought to avoid reading the terrific scoop in yesterday’s Boston Globe about the Mitt Romney campaign plan. The Globe has come across a 77-page PowerPoint presentation that outlines the former governor’s plan to “define himself” in the Republican primaries and, ideally, in the national election.

Like all such documents—and every candidate relies on them—it is filled with the grating jargon of modern marketing and the faux science of opinion polling. It addresses such synthetic issues as “Brand Romney” and how to “own the future.” The “blueprint,” as the Globe calls it, states that Romney needs to position himself as a “turnaround CEO governor and strong leader from outside Washington,” a phrase that was no doubt carefully focus-grouped among suburban, female outlet shoppers in Reading, Pennsylvania.

It is easy to make fun of such strategy plans, but it is simply a fact that the selling of a presidential candidate necessarily shares many of the features of launching a new product or marketing a new movie. The truly depressing part is the absence of any set of ideas that Romney will advocate. Yes, there is much buzz about “America’s strength,” “global challenges,” and how the U.S. must not be like Europe. But in this campaign strategy document, like so many before it, what is conspicuous by its omission is a list of three or four ideas that the candidate will actually pursue as President. Instead, the pollsters and media advisors set out “themes,” framing the campaign and giving it only the faintest appearance of substance.

Curiously, the memo suggests that Newt Gingrich, should he enter the race, would become a serious challenge to Romney’s ability to attract the party’s conservative base. Could that be because Gingrich, for all his flaws, has built his career around rattling off specific, provocative policy ideas—which is exactly what this sort of strategy memo fails to do?



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