There's plenty of reason to believe Mitt Romney will win the presidential election this fall. He may lose, but he certainly has a good shot at winning. Where Romney stands to fail though, is after he wins.
The country is in the doldrums. An anemic economy, catastrophic high level of debt, and a host of other problems all require decisive, bold action. Romney is likely capable of hack and slash spending cuts, some of which are necessary but he does not seem to have a vision for a way out of the swamp. He hasn't addressed Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. He has not articulated a real vision for America. Instead, at stump speeches he recites platitudes or even sings. That's just great. Perhaps he is keeping his powder dry for the fall. He may be trying to prevent the Democrats from trying to poke holes in his vision. If that is the case, then my comments may be premature. But I'm pretty much in the what you see is what you get camp on Romney, flip-flops and all.
It is possible that Romney may rescue the economy, and lower the deficits substantially through GDP growth. But that doesn't really solve the bigger problem. It ignores the mandatory spending monster, which is the real crisis to come. Even that though is not going to be source of Romney's failure. The real failure will come not from how Romney addresses the fiscal mess but from his lack of ability to be a transformational figure. Right now the country needs one. Conservatism needs one too. This election requires a Reagan, and a Reagan, Romney is not.
In the shorter term Romney will likely govern well to the left of where conservatives want him to be. In the longer term though is where Romney is likely to really let conservatism down. And it won't be mainly because of his lack of conservatism. It will be as a result of a great missed opportunity. After the disillusionment of so many in an Obama presidency they expected to be transformational - this is truly a golden opportunity to form a generational shift in the 18-34 year old demographic - not to mention other demographics such as women and Hispanics. Social policy considerations become secondary under economic conditions. Following a malaise of 4 years, a home run on the economy and debt would be keenly timely in hammering home the idea that conservatism works. That it's not about class warfare but rather the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats. In order to do that, the cost cutting will not be enough.
And that is where Romney will fail. He is clear-spoken and an acceptable though often awkward communicator; he is no Great Communicator. He has ideas to fix the economy but no future vision. Say what you will about Newt's moon colonies, at least it was a vision. For Romney, the problem is that you need to have a solid vision to be a great communicator. You can't wow your audience when you are talking about something like asset depreciation or net present value.
Even if Romney can fix a lot of the problems (which isn't assured, since he's tacking back to the left now and who knows what to believe he will do), he's still just a technocrat at his core. At least that is what he appears to be so far. That's not going to connect with a 20 year old student.
That student is a potential 50-70 years of voter. The best way to win that voter over for at least a few decades, but potentially his/her entire voting lifetime, is to follow an abysmal failure with a resounding success, all the while communicating a vision that not only reaches backwards a la standing on the shoulders of giants, but also looks forwards and explains where the country needs to be to compete and win in the 21st century. Romney may be able to win on the first count but a resounding success is not likely given that he seems to want to tinker at the margins rather than have a bold, transformational objective. And he hasn't displayed any inclination towards the second point - a vision to successfully communicate about the future.
After looking at Obama Romney may be right to be deliberatively non-communicative on specifics. Obama clearly had the communication piece down but failed on both the execution piece and was not entirely forthcoming on the vision or agenda, preferring to run as a tabula rasa where voters could fill in the blanks with their own vision of the perfect president, After all, Obama won big time. Romney's short term tactics to win, ifthat is what they are, are so far negating his chance to get the big conservative generational shift after the win. Obama at least feigned a vision by talking in general platitudes about education, winning the future, hope and change etc. Romney isn't doing even that very successfully. The other difference this time is that the voters may not be so foolish as to not demand more specific answers before voting for an unknown entity.
But again, the real problem is not about winning the election, it's about translating that 2012 win into a long term payoff. By not communicating a vision now, Romney is not inspiring anyone to believe his post election payoff will benefit conservative voting patterns for years to come. Romney it appears is only in this to benefit Romney. His solutions are not America-savers in the long term. His approach is not something that will benefit conservatism for years to come either. Perhaps changing those two perceptions among conservatives, he could win our hearts and minds before winning those hearts and minds of potential new conservative voters in the years to come. That it seems, would be a win-win.