What do you think of when you think of Mitt Romney? Certainly he is intelligent, accomplished, organized, and, in a way, looks like a president. Conservative ideology aside, we would have no reason to think that Romney could not be sound in office.
But is Romney inspiring? Does Romney exude what George H. W. Bush derided as "that vision thing?"
There lies the problem.
Romney's rope-a-dope style in the primary season may win him the nomination as the not-Romneys battle it out. Compared to most of the pack, he looks far better informed and ready to govern. Compared to Newt Gingrich, he definitely looks more predictable and, some say, safe. Unfortunately for Romney, that could have been said about Neville Chamberlain versus Winston Churchill in 1938.
Should Romney win the nomination, and that is a strong possibility, he must cease the pleasant little boat trip of a campaign that he has captained so far. His latest debate spawned criticisms of his "going through the motions" and resorting to platitudes. This will not do against a campaign in 2012 that promises to be one of the most vicious in American history.
Thomas Dewey took the field against Harry Truman in 1948. Dewey altered his strategy after accusations of going too aggressively against Franklin Roosevelt. That was a mistake in that FDR was a sick old hero, whereas Truman was somewhat unpopular.
Whatever accolades Truman deserves for identifying Soviet evil early on, he must be remembered as a bare-knuckled liar of a campaigner. FDR's successor got everything that he wanted out of the initially hesitant to spend GOP Congress in 1947. The Marshall Plan, National Security Act of 1947, aid to Greece and Turkey, all this and more came at the behest of Truman. Few presidents have gotten more out of their own party. But Truman, seeing Dewey as a likeable opponent, campaigned against the "do-nothing Congress."
Dewey responded by ignoring Truman and playing prevent defense, which in football usually translates to preventing the win. Truman had very low popularity with all voters and even faced major splits in his own party. The liberal Louisville Courier-Journal summed up Dewey's campaign in the following fashion:
No presidential candidate in the future will be so inept that four of his major speeches can be boiled down to these historic four sentences: Agriculture is important. Our rivers are full of fish. You cannot have freedom without liberty. Our future lies ahead.
If you didn't already know....Truman won in 1948.
To be fair, Romney has been much more specific than Dewey was. However, he needs to show spark. Romney, if he wins nomination, needs that moment where Americans see that he can intelligently rise to the occasion. Ronald Reagan's famous 1980 microphone moment (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OO2_49TycdE) is an example.
It is still a long way to the end, and Gingrich is showing staying power and intellectual command. But if Romney should win, he needs to ignore the Dewey gameplan and go on the attack.