Although it has sometimes looked like Mitt Romney might have much going against him and little going for him in the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, it turns out he does have one very, very serious, perhaps ultimately decisive advantage. His brains.
The man is truly smart, someone with a proven ability to analyze problems and find solutions, and the question is whether that will be enough to overcome his electoral disabilities, such as prejudiced attitudes about his Mormon faith, a style that can come across as glib, slick and insincere and a relative lack of name recognition.
The Mormon issue should never have surfaced, but bigots have hounded Mormons in this country going back now to the 19th century, and I don’t think they’re done yet. I’ve personally bumped into several people who have said they could never vote for a Mormon as president. When I’ve pressed them on why not, they fail to come up with the only answer that would justify their position — that there is something in Mormon beliefs that would clearly translate into disastrous public policy.
How precisely Romney might get past this hindrance is not clear, but it surely won’t suffice for him to make occasional brief statements about his trustworthiness. At the least, he must bring the public to focus on the issue while engendering a sense of fair play, and that will require that he come across as absolutely genuine. To date — at least in my view — there has been something too rehearsed about him, as if he has decided on the role he has to play to be victorious and doesn’t get it that people every now and then want to glimpse the real human being beneath the show.
Romney has already devised a strategy to help him overcome Rudolph Giuliani’s renown for his courageous, commanding demeanor on 9/11, his noted success as New York City’s mayor and his substantial lead in national polls. Romney aims to win in the Iowa caucuses and then the New Hampshire primary, and ride the momentum to wins in more populous states. Intense, expensive TV advertising appears to be paying off in those early races, although Mike Huckabee has been catching up in Iowa in recent surveys.
Even supposing Romney hangs on and wallops the opposition in these first contests, he’s got to know others have done the same thing without gaining the big prize, that the whole primary scene is very different from the past this political season and that he will have to come up with still more ideas on how to overtake Giuliani’s fame and stave off Huckabee and, quite possibly, Fred Thompson.
None of these others should underestimate him, though.
Check out an account of Romney’s history, and you find he was valedictorian at Brigham Young University and among the top students in his class in both Harvard Law School and the Harvard Business School’s MBA program. When you read about his record as a CEO you will discover that time and again he took impossible situations that had stumped everyone else and converted them into shining triumphs. You will learn how this Republican got elected governor in the Democratic state of Massachusetts and engineered enactment of an impressively framed universal health insurance package.
You will also encounter the remarkable story of how he took charge of the Winter Olympics in Utah when the prospect was a deficit of hundreds of millions. Under his guidance, the Games earned about $100 million. Give this man a sow’s ear, and soon enough he will present you with a silk purse.
None of the candidates in either party is a dummy and all have achievements they can point to. I myself remain wowed by Giuliani’s magnificent accomplishments as mayor of New York.
Romney’s analytical capacity is many reaches above the ordinary, and this gift of his — along with good advice from others, solid character, sound values and reasonable positions on the issues — just might land him the nomination, and conceivably the presidency itself, even if that now seems a long shot.
It might also help make him a very good president.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)aol.com.)