I noticed on twitter that David Frum, an unenthusiastic but genuine Romney supporter, said that whenever he sees Romney talking about something he clearly cares about he’s reassured by the thought of his being president. It’s when he’s talking about things that clearly aren’t big issues for him that he worries. And the problem is that it’s those issues that cable TV and the political scrum get most focused on.
This reminded me of a general theory of Romney that I’ve had since the latter days of the 2008 race; and it’s key from the point of view, I suspect, of many of Romney’s most enthusiastic supporters.
When Romney talks about relatively uncontroversial if right-leaning business beliefs, principles, mentality, it’s clear he knows his stuff and believes it. He’ll even stick to it, mostly, in cases when it’s not helpful politically — think about his line about letting the housing market bottom out. That’s the thread connecting basically his entire public life. That’s him. He’s consistent and knowledgeable.
When he talks about virtually everything else it’s clear his message is mainly rooted in product-marketing and message-testing. Which brings us back to business principles. Businessmen bring products to market based largely on effective market research. You have to have a model that makes it potentially profitable. And there are some visionary types like Steve Jobs who go by gut more than market research. But basically it’s about market research.
No one has a product fail in the market and then comes back with the same product on principle. That’s ridiculous. You come back with a better product, mainly retooled on the basis of market research. What do people want?
And before you say that this is my armchair take on how businessmen operate, I am a businessman. And bringing different products to market is most of what I do, albeit on a much smaller scale. It makes sense. The core issue with Romney is that that approach sits at best uneasily in a political context, especially in a party that is quite ideological in historical terms for American politics.
That’s the other thread connecting Romney’s entire political career.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.