Commentary Magazine


Meeting Mitt — the Likeable Enough CEO

The main task of the Republican National Convention this week is to introduce — or reintroduce, depending on your point of view — Mitt Romney to the American people. So we’ll be getting lots of biographical details, insights and testimonials during the convention sessions. In addition to that, we’re being deluged with Romney interviews. There are the soft features showing Mitt and his wife Ann at home with the kids and grandkids, such as this one run by Fox News in which we learn that there is no paid staff at the Romney New Hampshire vacation home and that everyone has chores to do (a fitting example for a nation that he intends to get back to work). And there are more substantial interviews, such as his sit-down with Politico, in which he outlined what his governing style in the White House would look like.

Not surprisingly, Romney says people recruited from the private sector will dominate his cabinet and that he will look to female business leaders, like Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman, to join his team. Running through that interview and other Romney press appearances is the question of whether he is likeable enough to be elected president. Romney appears to know that he lacks the natural ability to connect with people that most successful politicians have. And he acknowledges that personal attacks on him by the Democrats have done some real damage. That means the reboot of Romney’s image this week has two purposes. One is to soften the hard edges created by ads depicting him as an outsourcing, heartless plutocrat by showing the dedicated, hard-working family man that he really is. The other is to convince voters that what they need is not someone who will feel their pain and make eloquent speeches about it but a C.E.O.-in-chief who can fix the economy, a result that will pay a dividend to every American family.

Politico notes that Romney’s pledge to try to get into the weeds on issues with his staff and do his own thinking, rather than being force-fed solutions by his staff to rubber stamp, sounds reminiscent of Obama’s ponderous decision-making. But Romney’s proven managerial abilities, his knowledge of the fine line between necessary delegation and abandoning responsibility, and formidable powers of research analysis provide a strong contrast to the president’s style. Above all, Romney promises accountability to the voters. Unlike the president’s grandiloquent pledges of hope, change and turning back the oceans, Romney’s ideas are far more concrete and down to earth and are far better suited to the business of fixing what’s wrong with the country.

Nevertheless, the Republicans understand that Romney won’t win a straight popularity contest with Obama, and that is a huge handicap in any presidential election. The president’s likability is somewhat overrated. The admiration he inspires has far more to do with his historic status as the first African-American president than his personality. But that, along with the cool he exudes, has greater appeal than Romney’s “Father Knows Best” persona.

As today’s Washington Post poll shows, despite the tremendous advantages that Obama possesses in terms of incumbency and his place in history, he is still deadlocked with his GOP opponent. Romney doesn’t have to be more likeable than Obama. But he does have to convince more Americans that he’s got the right stuff to lead the nation. Based on the evidence of the Republican rollout this week, he’s made a good start.