Now that it's a virtual certainty Mitt Romney will be the Republican presidential nominee, and all the other candidates have likely dozed off with the rest of us during this preliminary series of political skirmishes, it's time to wipe the sleep from our eyes and get ready for presidential playoffs. What should be included in Romney's tactical playbook? Here are a few suggestions:
-- The world isn't the same as it was when President Obama was elected at the outset of the economic crisis. The whiny protesters spilling into the streets all over the Western world hate two things: Wall Street guys and the establishment. Unfortunately for Romney, he reeks of Eau d'Establishment. On the other hand, so does Obama these days. Best to play this as a draw. Own that fact and tell voters, "Hey, I'm a stuffed-shirt Wall Street guy, but so is he now." And leave it at that.
To paraphrase former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, you don't have to defeat God in an election -- just the other guy. The absolute worst thing an establishment guy can do is try to play a populist. The media has already been wondering how Romney will "connect" with Middle America. How about through authenticity rather than by manipulating voters by trying to pull off a believable personality transplant? The results of such transplants are usually disastrous. Former Canadian Liberal Party candidate Michael Ignatieff -- another Eau d'Establishment aficionado -- tried to offset his natural predisposition in campaign ads by filming them in the middle of a forest. But hanging out in the forest alone in a dress shirt as you lecture your fellow citizens on any intentions unrelated to the foliage in your immediate vicinity just makes you look "off."
-- Don't bother trying to dazzle with style; stick with substance. "Hope and change" isn't a threat anymore -- it's the political version of a used-car salesman's siren call. Voters have a thirst for the quiet depth required to solve today's challenging problems.
No one needs to be charismatic beyond having a pulse to get elected right now. Nicolas Sarkozy just lost the French presidency to Francois Hollande, whose most striking feature upon election was arguably his stunning lack of an entourage. While Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has some fine conservative qualities, many a room has found itself wanting for light upon Harper entering. When the leadership on the world stage resembles a lunchtime Dungeons & Dragons club, the captain of the football team comes off as the weirdo. Even Vladimir Putin hasn't ripped off a shirt or wrestled a bear since reclaiming office.
-- Every candidate for high office has advisors (or in Hollande's case, a politically savvy girlfriend), but it would be helpful for Romney to emphasize how much actual thinking he's done on his own, using concrete examples whenever possible. No one's expecting any politician to parse every detail and reveal the work done by all the little hands, but disclosing what he's been personally responsible for would refreshingly serve the same purpose. Revealing any foreign-policy positions that weren't concocted by a think tank, for example, would be a good start -- in the event that there are any. When running against someone who has struggled to discard his teleprompter training wheels, the value of bold claims of original thinking shouldn't be underestimated.
-- At a time when the Washington elite is taking care of itself and its friends, what if Romney explained all the ways in which he won't owe his friends anything or be beholden to anyone? That's essentially what Hollande did in France, saying during his one and only debate against Sarkozy that he wouldn't play favorites and would be "president of all the French people" rather than providing power and perks to friends. People are sick of the backroom dealing and the IOUs for unspoken favors. In fact, this is about as much of a populist move as an establishmentarian could hope to execute -- but it's a triple toe loop. Miss, and you land on your behind in front of everyone.