Stumble over Rubio vetting highlights opportunity in VP selection process.
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What’s bad is if the necessity for confidentiality prohibits Romney and his team from communicating a variety of extremely important ideas and images to the American people as he goes about the process of picking his vice president.
Not for nothing was Ronald Reagan nicknamed “The Great Communicator.” While in retrospect communicating a message has always been a part of a president’s job from the moment George Washington first took the oath of office, in the age of television, radio, and the Internet the job of being the Communicator-in-Chief has expanded by leaps and bounds.
Listen to Ronald Reagan on the subject of communicating as he discussed his 8 years in office during his farewell address to the nation on January 11, 1989:
And in all of that time I won a nickname, “The Great Communicator.” But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: it was the content. I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation — from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries. They called it the Reagan revolution. Well, I’ll accept that, but for me it always seemed more like the great rediscovery, a rediscovery of our values and our common sense.
What Team Romney is missing here is an enormous opportunity to re-introduce Governor Romney to America as its potential next president. To communicate — to showcase — Mitt Romney’s abilities as an executive, a man who loves to collect data and act on the conclusions he draws. A man who knows how to lead his party — and his country. Perhaps most importantly, what’s being missed is a chance for Americans to like Mitt Romney, to develop a comfort zone with the man who is asking to be their president — the man who is as of a few weeks ago The Alternative to President Obama.
How to do this?
Remember Jimmy Carter.
Say what? Jimmy Carter?????
No, not President Jimmy Carter — the hapless chief executive who bumbled his way through four years in the White House and set the stage for Ronald Reagan. Not that guy.
No, we’re talking here about the 1976 candidate Jimmy Carter — the dazzling candidate with the Why Not the Best mantra of openness and candor that wowed so many millions of Americans into first nominating Carter for president over a virtual posse of better known party rivals and then electing him over an incumbent President Gerald Ford. The Jimmy Carter who, nomination in hand that summer of 1976 but not yet formally nominated, understood that the vice-presidential selection process itself was an extraordinary opportunity to give Americans their first view of him as a presidential decision maker.
That Jimmy Carter was a communications star, his vice presidential selection process a model not just of thorough vetting focusing on the usual financial, personal, and political questions that Team Romney is surely doing as well. What made Carter’s selection process such a communications success was its open presentation to the public.
By late June of 1976 Jimmy Carter was exactly where Mitt Romney is now — the unchallenged soon-to-be nominee of his party. Like Romney, Carter too was a one term ex-governor, which is to say he was a private citizen with none of the panoply of office that is available to a sitting president, governor or senator. While he had won the nomination, Americans still knew little about the ex-Georgia governor. Campaigns inevitably turn into an impersonal televised blur, the candidate daily before a microphone or debate podium in an endless string of speeches, debates, handshaking, and baby kissing.
What Carter’s people realized by the end of June was that it was time to communicate to the American people just who Jimmy Carter really was. Like Romney, Carter was going to be facing an incumbent president — Gerald Ford — in the fall. Americans liked Gerald Ford. Carter would have to become more — much more — than the increasingly familiar face of a thousand campaign appearances. What they had to do was accomplish what every successful presidential candidate accomplishes: communicate the idea and image of the candidate as a serious potential president.
Which in turn meant spending the summer of 1976 introducing Jimmy Carter the man — the person. The ex-governor with the business and military background, the homespun Man from Plains, a tiny one-street town in rural Georgia.
The vice-presidential selection process was the perfect vehicle to communicate — to showcase — Carter’s executive skills, his political skills, his personal background. In the wake of the scandals and secrecy associated with the Nixon presidency — in which Ford had served as vice president — Carter would effectively communicate what Reagan later spoke of in that 1989 farewell speech as:
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
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