Political Hay

Rick’s Missing Message

Oft-times he gives the impression he's interested in creating only one job -- his own.

By 3.8.12

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It's a maxim in political communications that something that isn't repeated at least half a dozen times in a speech won't be remembered by the audience.

So it was no surprise to hear the words "job" or "jobs" uttered by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney a dozen times during his 16 minute speech from Boston on Super Tuesday evening.

Former Senator Rick Santorum, on the other hand, only used those words twice during his Tuesday remarks, and neither use related to jobs in the way that people care intensely about them today, namely their Democrat-induced scarcity.

The comparison of the two men's use of "job" and "jobs" shows why half of all primary voters -- including many who don't support Mitt Romney -- believe that Romney is the Republican most likely to beat President Obama in November.

Romney is extremely disciplined and, for a guy who is sometimes tagged as unable to relate to the average American, has been offering a more relatable message than Santorum, particularly for those outside the most conservative part of the Republican base.

Here is Romney, from Tuesday night's speech, emphasis mine:

Some people have lost their jobs. Others are working two jobs just to make ends meet. Some used to be middle income, and now they're struggling again, right back where they started. As you know, the prices for gasoline and food and clothing and health care keep going up, but their paychecks stay the same, if they're lucky…. To the millions of Americans who look around and can only see jobs they can't get and bills that they -- that they can't pay, I have a message: You have not failed. You have a president that's failed you, and that's going to change…. You know, when he was campaigning, President Obama said he'd create jobs, but for 36 straight months, unemployment has been above 8 percent…

Four mentions of "jobs" in 90 seconds.

Here's Rick Santorum's use of "job" on Tuesday: "The government's job and the Constitution of this country was intended to do one thing: protect those rights…" He's right of course, and Americans should all hope for a president who believes this principle deeply. But what good is a deeply-held principle in a politician who can't create a message that resonates with a majority of American voters?

And if that mention of "job" misses the major issue that voters care about in 2012, Senator Santorum's other reference hits a level of self-absorption that even the patrician Mitt "I'm not worried about the very poor" Romney has not, at least when taken in context, come close to reaching:

Karen and I have seven children, ages 20 to three, not exactly the best time to be out running for president of the United States. We've given up our -- our jobs. We're living off our savings. Yeah, we're making a little sacrifice for a very, very big goal…

Yes, during his Tuesday evening speech, Rick Santorum's only mention of someone losing a job was about him and his wife voluntarily giving up whatever they were doing in order either to become highly paid residents of the White House or, in what some might consider a better result, to dramatically raise their future earnings with book royalties, speaking fees, and consulting contracts.

Talking about "living off our savings," something many unemployed Americans only wish they had as a fall-back position, also struck a discordant note from the Republican most trying to portray himself as a "man of the people."

Note to Rick: It was your choice to have seven children. (We certainly cannot question your opposition to contraception.) Don't use them as an excuse for your financial woes; we don't want to hear it, especially while you drag them around the country like a traveling circus act.

Other important issues during this campaign season include debt (Romney mentions: 3, Santorum: 0), unemployment (Romney 3, Santorum 0), economy (Romney 9, Santorum 1), tax (Romney 9, Santorum 0) and perhaps the biggest threat to the economy, Obama (Romney 9, Santorum 2).

It is understandable that Santorum would not try to compete against Mitt Romney on a message of job creation, especially following Romney's revamped jobs and tax plan which economic conservatives, including the Wall Street Journal's editorial page praised (though acknowledging that it, like the other candidates' plans, is not without flaws). Romney has the strongest business credentials of any candidate in this election, perhaps of any candidate in any modern American election. No Republican (or Democrat) running in 2012 will out-business Romney.

So Santorum's message is by necessity a different one, some might say a more principled one. Santorum mentioned "liberty" three times; none for Romney, and "rights" five times to none for Romney. He reminded us that "we are a great country because we believe that rights don't come from the government."

A message of liberty and limited government, as important and welcome as it is during these days of many Americans believing government should force religious institutions to pay for abortion pills, is probably not enough to win election in 2012. But if that's your strategy, Rick, whether due to playing to your own strengths or avoiding your opponents', then stick with it.

Instead of a messaging rifle, Santorum has a rhetorical shotgun, which is not nearly as likely to take down the political big game he is stalking.

AFTER HEARING SANTORUM on Tuesday, and in many prior speeches, it's hard not to be a bit confused about his focus. Is he about the economy, or about contraception? Is he about liberty, or is he about family (8 mentions)? Is he about being an underdog, being outspent, being proud of coming in second a lot? Is he concerned about an overly intrusive federal government, the costs of Obamacare, and assaults on religious freedom? Does he think about individual opportunity, "energy… manufacturing… and financial services," Romneycare, standing with our allies, being a fighter, the "greatest generation," or not "so badly want(ing) to be the most powerful man in this country" -- all of which he mentioned in a 20-minute speech?

Newt Gingrich is the only man in the race who can get away with having lots of ideas, because that's what is expected of him. From any other candidate -- and even from Newt to some degree -- it just comes across as being undisciplined, as the political equivalent of a "jack of all trades and master of none."

Between Rick Santorum's lack of focus and his too frequently whiny, self-pitying tone, including bemoaning Newt Gingrich's refusal to get out of the race, the Santorum campaign's raison d'être is a blur. He appeals on a topic, then moves on to something else with an attention span shorter than my four-year old son in a candy store, searching furiously among all the containers for the one he thinks will taste best today -- and then asking for three different things.

As far as calling for Gingrich's departure, does Santorum forget that he refused a similar request from the former Speaker of the House in mid-January, describing Gingrich's calls for him to get out of the race as "not cogent thoughts"?

Later that month, with Newt Gingrich coming off a South Carolina victory and looking strong in Florida, Bill McCollum, the former Speaker's Florida campaign co-chair, complained that Santorum's presence was diluting the conservative vote: "If he weren't in it, we would clearly be beating Romney right now… I think a vote for Rick is simply… a vote that's wasted at this point."

Santorum responded: "You know I think one opponent calling for the other opponent to get out just shows the weakness that opponent feels -- obviously feels in their own campaign. I'm not calling for anybody to get out. We'll beat them straight up."

So what does Santorum expect to happen when he and a Super PAC supporting him call for Newt to drop out, a message they are pressing aggressively in the hours since Super Tuesday? In his own Tuesday night comments, Gingrich's belief in "what's good for the goose" is evident:

[R]emember when it was Tim Pawlenty who was going to crowd me out? And remember then when it was Michele Bachmann? And then it was our good friend, Herman Cain the first time? And then, for a brief moment, it was Donald Trump almost. And then it was our good friend, Rick Perry, then it was Herman Cain the second time, and now it's Santorum…. There are lots of bunny rabbits that run through. I am the tortoise. I just take one step at a time.

Instead of drifting from economics to birth control to the size of government to being a fighter, instead of complaining about being outspent, his own "sacrifices," or the unfairness of having opponents who won't do him the courtesy of dropping out (when he selfishly wouldn't do the same for them), Rick Santorum needs to get a message -- any message -- and stick with it.

Until then, keeping in mind that Republicans' goal in 2012 is to defeat Barack Obama -- usually a model of messaging discipline -- Rick Santorum's lack of focus is as much an argument against his candidacy as is his lack of a central message. His self-pity is just icing on his opponents' cake.

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About the Author
Ross Kaminsky is a self-employed trader and investor and is a senior fellow of the Heartland Institute. He is the host of The Ross Kaminsky Show on Denver's NewsRadio 850 KOA on Saturday mornings from 6 AM to 9 AM. You can reach Ross by e-mail at rossputin(at)rossputin(dot)com.