Once a popular moderate voice, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney began to shed many of his more liberal stances in 2004 as he geared up for a presidential run. Back then, George Bush had illuminated the path to victory for a national Republican-- run hard to the right on divisive issues and pursue 51% of the electorate.
Campaigns start so early that it is easy for candidates to misjudge electoral winds, and those who craft their message based exclusively on what the people want to hear seem to invariably fall into this pitfall. As it happened, the failure of Bush's second term meant Romney badly overplayed his conservative hand in a year Republicans ultimately nominated a moderate voice.
In today's political climate, where Republicans debate their party's direction, Romney-insiders have said he is "troubled" by the politics of VP- nominee Sarah Palin. It seems that Romney realizes that if he's to be successful he must play to his own strengths, which, as a former wildly successful CEO and venture capitalist, are on the economic front.
To that end, he authored an editorial in today's New York Times (that elitist rag so reviled by Governor Palin & co). In it, Romney suggests that what Detroit's big- three automakers need isn't a bailout, but a complete re-structuring that bankruptcy would afford.
His prescription is threefold:
- Eliminate their disadvantage relative to foreign competitors through new labor agreements. Romney claims that excessive labor and retirement benefits cost US automakers $2000/car.
- Overhaul current management. Romney seeks to end the enmity between labor and management through less salary and more stock for executives, and fewer luxuries and direct communication with workers as well. It's a strategy used by Romney's father (former Michigan governor, George), who turned around American Motors in the '60s.
- Invest in the industry's future, with government assistance. The government should increase investment on fuel technology five-fold (to $20bn), and partner with private enterprises to increase R&D for innovation.
It is nice to see Romney advocating solutions, and it makes one think of what would have happened if the economic crisis had come at a different point in the presidential campaign. Regardless, Republicans should look to men and women of his stature and expertise as the party attempts to regain credibility with the American people. That assumes, however, Romney will save his breath for issues that really matter to him and the lives of other Americans.