Mitt Romney has a percentage problem. And it’s not the 47%.
Well, it’s not only the 47%. Responding to those now-infamous fundraiser comments, Romney trotted out another percent that reveals much more about his worldview, and his campaign problems: 50.1%.
“I want to get 50.1% or more,” he told a Fox News interviewer the day after the tape was released.
It’s a number he’s used before. When defending his alliance with Donald Trump, whose obsession with President Obama’s birth certificate shows little sign of waning, Romney explained: “You know, I don’t agree with all the people who support me and my guess is they don’t all agree with everything I believe in. But I need to get 50.1% or more and I’m appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people.”
That problem with the 50.1%? First, it makes Romney sound like he’s angling to be a majority stakeholder in America, rather than its president. If he can just capture a controlling share, he can do whatever he likes. It gives lie to the notion that businessmen make good politicians. True, elected officials have to cobble together votes and factions in order to build a majority coalition. But to lead successfully, they have to express a vision that encompasses not only their supporters, but the entire nation.
And that’s the bigger problem with Romney’s 50.1% formulation. The Republican nominee has been criticised by the Right for “speaking conservatism as a second language.” The real barrier to his election, however, is that he speaks politics as a second language – one in which he has little fluency.
At its heart, talk of winning 50.1% is a conversation about strategy, not governing. Romney is far more comfortable discussing strategy than laying out policy visions (and details). Rather than outline how his presidency would help women, for instance, he talks about his need to woo women voters in order to win the election. Same with Latino voters. This would be fine were he a behind-the-scenes campaign manager. But he’s the candidate, which requires much more of him.
Ironically, Romney’s best strategy is to convince people he cares about voters more than he cares about their votes. Having watched him campaign for the past year, I’m not sure that’s a case he can make. But as the race draws to a close , it may be the only way he can win.