Originally Published: 2 February, 2012.
If I had to use one word to describe Mitt Romney it would be sanitized. Romney’s lack of a distinctive personality and distinctive policies create a bland, vanilla image, which combined with his elite background and the aura he gives off of never having to work a day in his life and never having to get his hands dirty, combine in my mind to create a very sanitized image.
The ability to connect to voters is a politician’s greatest asset and the thing that is most necessary to be elected president. If we look at the most successful presidents they were all great communicators (Lincoln, FDR, JFK, Reagan, Clinton). Voters opinions about politicians are often instinctive and so successful politicians need to connect to voters on a visceral level. Reaching people at a gut level is the result of being a good communicator.
Romney‘s greatest weakness is his apparent inability to connect to voters on a personal level. People don’t identify with his elite background and immense personal wealth. If Romney is the Republican presidential nominee then this weakness will be magnified in comparison to President Obama, whose greatest strength is as a campaigner and a communicator. Obama’s greatest strengths are his inspirational oratory and his ability to connect to voters on a personal level with apparent ease.
A British example would be the comparison between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown; Blair the great communicator who’s ability to connect to a wide range of people broadened the Labour Party’s appeal and helped to secure the biggest Labour electoral victory in history, and Brown whose discomfort in the communication aspect of politics was obvious.
Brown’s inability to connect with voters was evidenced in one of the most famous scenes of the 2010 British General Election; when he referred to Gillian Duffy, a member of the public he had just had a conversation with on immigration, as a ‘bigoted woman’ to his staff, whilst unbeknown to him, his microphone was still on. This incident helped to reinforce the idea the Brown was out-of-touch with the public and unwilling to listen to the legitimate concerns of the people he sought to lead.
Romney’s inability to connect to voters is emphasized by his elite background; he oozes the fact that he is rich. Ironically, given the backgrounds of most presidents, his elite background would be one of the most serious barriers to him being elected president in the next election. At a time when Americans are undergoing the worst economy since the Great Depression of the 1930s, people do not want a president who is super-rich and so has not experienced what it’s like to have to worry about paying your mortgage and your food bills and how you are going to afford to pay for college for your kids.