Why Mitt Romney’s Presidential Prospects May Not Be Salvageable
Business School Case Study: Company R has the financial resources, the professional staff, the marketing know-how, and the business expertise to dominate its competition. But despite the near-universal familiarity of its signature product, Company R has been dramatically losing market share to upstart challenger Company S, which until recently was little-noticed outside of rural Iowa.
Company R is obviously due for a major re-branding. But there is a major obstacle—Company R has changed its marketing strategy so often in the last decade that consumers have no clear idea what makes it distinctive. Asked to describe Company R’s positive attributes, focus-group participants constantly say things like “It’s rich” and “It’s safe” and “It’s there.”
Because Company R’s sales are plunging in Michigan, the state where it got its start, the futures markets are shorting the stock. Suddenly, a total collapse seems possible. Assignment: Prepare a PowerPoint showing how you would execute a rapid-fire turnaround.
THE MITT ROMNEY CRISIS transcends the seven straight national polls showing Rick Santorum in the lead. It goes beyond the embarrassing reality that the son of an auto executive and two-term governor has been behind in every Michigan poll conducted since Groundhog’s Day. Even more devastating for Romney is that elite Republicans have begun to conclude that he cannot, if nominated, beat Barack Obama. About the only argument that still works for Romney among GOP insiders is that he would be less of a drag on the ticket than the strident Santorum or the mercurial Newt Gingrich.
With the exception of Mike Dukakis (what is it about governors of Massachusetts?), it is impossible to recall a top-tier presidential contender who aroused such little passion among the voters. Perhaps Bob Dole in 1996—but if the Bobster didn’t inspire awe in Republican voters, he could at least count on their respect. Compared to Dole’s status as a former vice-presidential nominee, Senate leader, and war hero, Romney’s boasts about the 2002 Winter Olympics and his single term as governor suffer from transparent grade inflation.
Of course, other major presidential contenders have faced the political abyss and managed to rebound to win the nomination. But no one has ever quite faced Romney’s particular double whammy of problems: that he’s not very well liked by voters while simultaneously being considered ideologically suspect by party activists. Romney can find plenty of precedents in recent presidential history, but none of them will provide much solace.
Bill Clinton (1992). Roughly one million male babies were born in America between August 1946 and March 1947. Among them, it is hard to imagine two that had less in common (other than high IQ’s) than Romney and Clinton. In 1992, facing furors over both Gennifer Flowers and his Vietnam draft record, Clinton begged New Hampshire voters for a second chance telling them, “I’ll be with you until the last dog dies.” If Romney tried to turn on the charisma in an effort to morph into the Comeback Kid, it would come out as something wooden like: “Well, gosh. I will be with you using the job-creation skills that I learned in the private sector until we get Seamus off the car roof.”