Mitt Romney is running for President as the candidate best equipped to repair the U.S. economy. Romney’s pitch is that turning around the economy isn’t so different from turning around businesses, as he did at Bain Capital, or turning around the failing 2002 winter Olympics. As the Wall Street Journal noted yesterday, the man is a technocrat, and his appeal is that he has the smarts to solve big economic and organizational problems. It’s true that voters don’t always fall for technocrats. But for now, this is the approach Romney is banking on.
The flip side of Romney’s argument is that his chief rival, Texas governor Rick Perry, lacks the managerial chops–and, yes, the brains–to do the job. Case in point: Check out the mock Perry economic plan that the Romney campaign has released. Its cover image features a goofy-looking Perry firing a six-shooter in the air beside a pair of cowboy boots, the image of a parochial Texan. Most of the document’s interior pages are blank. Others feature derisive quotes about Perry’s debate performances, including Peggy Noonan describing the Texan as a “buffoon,” and a few quotes from Perry’s own mouth that are, shall we say, short of Churchillian. (“I’ll take out, probably a sharpie, and sign my name to an Executive Order that will wipe out as much of Obamacare as I can.”)
The Romney campaign would surely like me to point out here that they have released ta detailed 59-point economic plan, whereas Perry has delivered just one broad domestic policy speech. Of course, detail is only worth so much in a campaign. Barack Obama’s 2008 health care plan, remember, excluded an individual insurance mandate. But the larger point could be a damaging one. It’s true that George W. Bush survived teasing about his intellect during the 2000 campaign. But America was at a much calmer and happier point back then (sigh), and people seemed as concerned with character as they did with competence. Al Gore the technocrat lost out to the man who promised to restore honor and dignity to the Oval Office. This primary season, Romney is hoping that a technocrat can beat a strong personality.