Romney saw his significant lead in the polls become a double-digit deficit almost overnight. The monumental shift wasn’t in response to a scandal or a major gaffe—it resulted from Governor Rick Perry throwing his (cowboy) hat in the ring.
Romney hasn’t panicked—nor should he. I’m certain team Romney foresaw a significant shift in the polls—the only question was to what degree. And I have to believe a ten point deficit was not worst case scenario. People, particularly in politics, are enamored with the shiny new option. Hearken back to your school days when the new girl moved in. She may not have been the prettiest or most appealing from a personality standpoint, but she sure seemed that way. It wasn’t long, however, before the metaphorical new car smell wore off.
More recently, think Fred Thompson. He was viewed as a great would-be candidate largely because we didn’t know him. Thompson became the figurehead of what people wanted in a candidate. Before long people realized the reality didn’t match up with the fantasy. Shortly after his entrance, the shine wore off. Rick Perry could have the same fate, and with a couple of gaffes out of the gate it doesn’t seem too unlikely. Or he could be the next Reagan. Point is that it is way too early to tell.
Realizing that a presidential race is a marathon and not a sprint, Romney has kept up the same pace, employing the same strategy that I implored him to use months ago: a lazer like focus on the economy with particular emphasis on his economic resume.
But even I thought that message needed some tweaking and Perry’s entrance underscores that need.
Romney’s economic record is two-fold: his jobs record as governor of Massachusetts, and his private sector record of creating jobs.
Massachusetts’s near bottom-of-the-pack job creation numbers during Romney’s tenure have and will continue to be problematic for Romney. This problem becomes exacerbated when Romney’s job creation record is juxtaposed against Perry’s record as governor, who saw job growth at a high rate during his stint as governor.
Romney’s critics have also pointed to Romney’s record in the private sector as liability, citing instances where Romney cut jobs to increase profits for shareholders.
Romney can’t change his record. But he can change the message.
Romney needs to make clear that government does not create jobs. There are a finite amount of resources that can either be used to fuel a large, expansive government or a robust private sector. You can’t do both. Government’s role in creating jobs is to get out of the way and let the American entrepreneurial spirit thrive. And Romney is uniquely qualified to send that message having worked behind both desks.
Romney can then turn his job-cutting record into an asset as opposed to a liability. Romney has previously responded by saying “sometimes a business doesn’t work, but we had many more that did.” But he should respond by stating: In order for any organization to be successful, it needs to be efficient. That was what we did in with many businesses. We cut excess and fat. We streamlined delivery of a service or product. We made tough decisions that had to be made or the organization wouldn’t survive. And that is the mentality I will take to the White House. The federal government is the poster child for excess fat and inefficiency. And I have the experience to change that.
By taking this approach, Romney subtlety undermines Perry’s job-creation advantage and puts the emphasis on Romney’s strength—his private sector experience. It also implicitly draws attention to Perry’s weakness—a career politician who has not worked in the real economy.
And this approach will knock the shine off of Perry’s double-breasted suit quicker than anything.
Jordan Garn is a lawyer, lobbyist and political consultant. He can be reached at email@example.com