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Opinion

Opinion

August is important for Romney

July 30, 2012

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Mitt Romney returns to earth, or at least to the United States, later this week after an overseas tour designed to burnish his foreign-policy credentials and prepare him for the Republican National Convention next month and then a grueling general-election battle. Summer vacation’s over, and it’s back to work.

Presidential elections are seldom this close this far from Election Day, which is why the way Mitt Romney uses August is unusually important. There’s much to do, and not a day to waste.

Romney’s advisers in their Boston redoubt surely know the way another Massachusetts governor, 1988 Democratic nominee Michael S. Dukakis, whiled away his summer (and a 17-point lead Romney can only envy) as Vice President George H.W. Bush planned a brutal assault on his rival that won him the White House.

No presidential campaign is the same as any previous one. Romney can be thankful for that, for he gets to run against Barack Obama in 2012, when Obama seems inexplicable, and not in 2008, when he seemed indefatigable, irresistible and inevitable.

Lessons from Dukakis

Yet there remain great lessons for the Romney team this August from the Dukakis experience in 1988.

There are substantial similarities between the two men. They both occupied the governor’s office on the second floor of the State House on Beacon Hill, both hold Harvard degrees, both have a difficult time making emotional connections with voters, both have a record of government efficiency, both possess an appreciation for the art of business, and both are famous inside their families for manic expressions of personal thrift.

But Dukakis ran in a completely different era, before the 24-hour news cycle, before the Internet, before Twitter, before vitriolic public commentary on every website and cable TV network, before Super PACs.

Indeed, there was almost no measurable change in the way campaigns were run in the 24 years between Dukakis’ campaign and the one Barry Goldwater ran against Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. The changes between the Dukakis-Bush campaign and Obama-Romney 24 years later are so great they cannot be measured. Even so, Romney must avoid some of the missteps made by the Dukakis campaign, which (it is forgotten now) was a political juggernaut until summertime.

An underdog initially and vastly underestimated, Dukakis shrewdly won his nomination in a far tougher field than Romney confronted, including a future vice president and party nominee (Al Gore), a future House majority leader (Richard A. Gephardt) and a civil rights leader who relentlessly challenged Dukakis’ moral authority (the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr.).

But after reaching a rapprochement with Jackson over clam chowder and poached salmon on July 4, Dukakis lost steam. He wasted the month of August, preoccupied with how state lottery revenues would be dispersed and visiting officials across Massachusetts.

Romney will avoid many of those errors simply by virtue of having no gubernatorial responsibilities and, in fact, no day job at all. Thus, he has none of the distractions that bedeviled Dukakis. The national zeitgeist is different enough that he cannot even contemplate being out of sight in August. Nature has always abhorred a vacuum. But the new physics created by social media renders the notion of a political vacuum impossible.

Romney possesses another advantage. Dukakis’ convention concluded on July 21. By that point in the campaign, he already had a running mate, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas. Romney’s nomination won’t be conferred officially until nearly six weeks later in the calendar, which means his selection of a running mate, and his convention bump, will come later — though because the Democratic convention is only a few days after that, it may be smaller.

VP choice

Both Dukakis and Romney are meticulous men, fascinated with and sometimes drowning in details, so there’s little chance the 2012 nominee will rush the selection of a vice presidential nominee like Sen. John McCain (2008) and Sen. George S. McGovern (1972) did.

Joshua M. Glasser’s new book, “The Eighteen-Day Running Mate,” is a sober reminder of the perils of summer. It is a gripping examination of how McGovern chose Thomas F. Eagleton of Missouri as his running mate without knowing the senator had undergone electroshock therapy. Eagleton was soon abandoned.

The choice came in a frantic 23-hour period in which names were tossed about like Wiffle balls (Yale President Kingman Brewster? Rep. Wilbur Mills? CBS anchor Walter Cronkite?). As late as 2 that afternoon — McGovern was required to submit a nominee by 4 — the focus turned to Mayor Kevin H. White of Boston. At 3 p.m. McGovern threw out the name of Sen. Frank Church of Idaho. About 25 minutes before the deadline, Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin turned down an offer to join the ticket. Only a quarter-hour before the deadline, McGovern called Eagleton.

Some 38 seconds into the conversation between the two, McGovern aide Frank Mankiewicz picked up the telephone line and asked, “No skeletons rattling in your closet?” That was it. The vetting took one sentence and a one-word answer.

We know Romney will avoid that problem. But avoiding problems and using the next month profitably are two different things.

First he must answer some of the questions thrown his way — about his wealth, his career and his policy proposals. Then he must ask some questions of his own of Obama. One of them might be: How, Mr. President, after more than three years of your policies and your admirable concern about those struggling economically, can it be possible that the poverty rate is at levels not seen since you were a child?

A nation awaits the question, and the answer.

— David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Comments

Linda and Bill Houghton 2 years, 4 months ago

It would be difficult for any president to make progress when the opposition party is more interested in keeping the president from being re-elected than they are in helping the American people to overcome the bad economic times and in so doing block any efforts by the president to make progress.

csun 2 years, 4 months ago

How True. Passage of the Jobs Act would have lowered the unemployment rate to 7% or less.

tautur 2 years, 4 months ago

On day of Mitt Romney visit in Israel, the Lord has announced change in his negotiation strategy expanding his protection on his lost brother. The Final Act that I am caring can be now delivered on his planed assassination.

Asking all the Jewish People and Israeli to join us and to prevent such an assassination. Asking in same words that Abraham Lincoln did - 'How long the nation can endure?". Asking while in difference standing on the Holy Land itself. As Israel is no longer a dream but just a reality.

That is why whatever you are Democrat or Republican you shall read this note and join us in preventing such a crime. The hope is not yet lost...

Read more: http://tautur.tumblr.com/post/28206576910

Getaroom 2 years, 4 months ago

Romney, the man with no day job, has only one true distraction, he is Romney. He is not a good pretender let alone a contender for the Presidency.
His slogan should be: No Hope, No Change, Business As Usual. Also the credo of the GOP.

Larrytown 2 years, 4 months ago

I do agree....August will be an important month for Romney. He's going to have to release his tax returns, discuss his investments in the Swiss bank accounts/Cayman Islands and get through the Bain issue (investing in companies that sent jobs offshore).

Lots of financial skeletons...

Personally, I'm hoping and thinking he's toast. Americans do not want a president that bets against the US dollar, ships jobs overseas, and/or puts money in tax havens while the ordinary man/woman is picking up the tax bill (i.e paying a higher effective tax rate). That's against American's principles.

We shall see....

Abdu Omar 2 years, 4 months ago

AND we don't need a President that wants to end Social Security or Medicare. We don't need a president who will try to end the Affordable Care Act without replacing it with something better. Obama has lots to do if he wants to go down in history as a successful president, but when the repups decide it is better to help Americans than block all of his ideas, the country will be better off. You will see.

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