Perhaps you’ve noticed: Mitt Romney is rich.
Really rich. By some estimates, he’s worth as much as $200 million. He brought in a cool $20.9 million last year.
So it’s no surprise that Romney thinks and acts like a rich guy. And his rich guy persona keeps slipping out, seemingly accidentally, since each slip takes his campaign “severely” off message. He tells audiences that he “likes being able to fire people,” informs interviewers that he’s “not concerned about the very poor,” casually makes $10,000 bets, dismisses his $374,000 in speaking fee income as “not very much,” brags about putting his political opponents into debt, claims that while he’s not an ardent NASCAR fan he has “some friends who are NASCAR team owners,” and stays in the ritziest hotels while on the campaign trail.
I know, it sounds like I‘m begrudging Mr. Romney his success. I’m not. He figured out a legal way to make a lot of money, went after it, and succeeded.
But his condescending attempts to present himself as a “man of the people” have bordered on pathetic. He recently told one audience that, “there were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip,” and told another, “I’m also unemployed.” He claimed that he lives on the “real streets of America” (many real streets, actually, each with a multi-million dollar home). And he tried to establish his “Buy American” bona fides last week by saying that his wife Ann “drives a couple of Cadillacs.”
As a result, Mr. Romney finds himself in the worst of two worlds. On one hand, he’s a rich guy whose privileged life keeps slipping out through obliviously tone-deaf gaffes. On the other hand, he’s pretending to be a populist who personally relates to the financial struggles of ordinary Americans.
I understand why Mr. Romney’s advisers didn’t want him to run as a “rich guy” candidate. With income inequality at record-high levels and Romney’s image as a corporate raider, his wealth could easily be viewed as a campaign-killing liability. But Mr. Romney’s chronic gaffes have rendered that strategy impossible. It’s time for Romney to start running as the person he really is: a rich guy.
“Rich guy” candidates often win. Jon Corzine served as both Senator and Governor from New Jersey, and Michael Bloomberg is serving his third term as New York City mayor. And although he didn’t win, billionaire Ross Perot led the polls during his 1992 presidential run. But all three candidates used their wealth as a positive talking point, convincing voters that their wealth allowed them to serve without being compromised. Mr. Romney hasn’t sold himself on a similar promise.
Instead of hiding from his wealth, Mr. Romney should start explaining why his wealth will help the American people. His accumulation of wealth has exposed for him both the opportunities that the system affords ordinary Americans, as well as the abusive loopholes that should be closed. That knowledge, deployed properly, could be of great value to the American people.
Since the beginning of the 24/7 media age in 1980, there have been eight general elections. The candidate who has been perceived as being the most comfortable in his own skin has won all eight. Mr. Romney should stop presenting himself as what he thinks the public wants to see from him, and should start being himself. That means we’d see an unabashed rich guy. And as long as he sells that as a positive, it would be a step in the right direction for his campaign.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.