Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has the business credentials needed to rescue this country from its descent into socialism and big government as the solution to all human travails. As president, we could also expect an end to a tentative and apologetic foreign policy.
After Super Tuesday, Romney is still the frontrunner to take on President Obama in the fall. His résumé speaks to private capital and the American tradition of free enterprise, qualifications that the president and his retinue of advisors for the most part do not have. But Romney could do much more to inspire. As a brand he needs some friendly advice.
In politics, as in professions such as diplomacy, law, banking, consulting, and advertising, often form is substance. President Bush with a bullhorn at the rubble of the World Trade Center is a lasting image. An aircraft carrier patrolling the Strait of Hormuz makes a statement. So does an address by a foreign head of state from the White House Rose Garden. In positioning a product or a brand, there is a value to simplicity and brevity. In short, Romney needs help with his form, which can be an impediment to communicating his substance.
First, Romney needs to slow down and speak more deliberately. He is much too wound up, seemingly with a sentence, phrase, or answer for all ideas and issues. He needs to look like he is thinking about what he is saying. Silence and pauses can be effective and dramatic when used properly. Even if it is the case, there is no need to strive to look like the smartest guy in the room. After all, that is what cabinet officials and White House czars are for.
Ronald Reagan spoke purposefully and distinctly, and was known as the “Great Communicator” for a reason. He had immense presence, doubtless cultivated from years as an actor. When President Reagan famously said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin in 1987, it was succinct — not like a record at 78 rpm. His facial expressions were cultivated, and his sense of humor was at times self-effacing. Imagine if Romney paused and responded at a press conference or town hall meeting, “That’s a profound question, Sir; please allow me to reflect on what you said and get back to you — what is your e-mail address?”
Second, Romney needs to create an aura of crisis management with more gravitas (a word I dislike for its overuse but still use). Few would argue that this country is not in the worst economic and financial condition since the 1930s. Fundamental causes (trade and treasury deficits) go unremedied, and massive sacrifices will be required for America to live within its means and restore its competitiveness. The focus of the Obama Administration has been on excessively legislating and constraining American enterprise and talking down the successful, at a time when investment and entrepreneurship are needed more than ever.
Romney is a financial Green Beret and is senior enough and handsome enough to have a lot of gravitas. But he smiles too much — and under America’s grim circumstances he needs the right game face for a country in distress. He cannot project a sense of mission about restoring jobs and our trade balance and reducing colossally destructive Treasury deficits with lots of smiles.
Third, Romney needs to tone down the blue jeans and button down shirts, a contradiction in and of themselves. Jeans are fine for touring the farm belt or national parks. But we need a leader who looks like a peer of heads of state, or a primus inter pares on the world stage. Romney has a fine tailor and he should present himself that way. Why is it that his Secret Service detail is better dressed than the candidate they are protecting? If you have the message, you can get the votes of young people — look at President Obama in his svelte Hartmarx kit tweeting to a youthful following. Look at Ron Paul usually always in a suit — idolized by some of the young.
In the eyes of many, President Obama is a formidable speaker — public speaking is perhaps his finest art, and in matters of form he excels. For Romney, and for any leader trying to bond emotionally with the people of a country, form is substance.