Loosen Up, Mitt!

As Romney prepares to make his second run for the White House, he needs to quit pandering, wear a tie, and embrace his inner CEO. Mark McKinnon on what it will take for him to win.

06.01.11 10:38 PM ET

Mitt Romney kicked off his presidential campaign with a speech promising to “bring this country back” from the economic brink. Mark McKinnon says to win, Romney needs to quit pandering, wear a tie and embrace his inner CEO. Plus, primary voters build the perfect Republican candidate.

I've been harder on Mitt Romney than have many observers. But, now that he is formally announcing his candidacy, it's time to take stock of what he brings to the table. When you look at the entire picture, there's a lot of paint in the frame. If Mitt Romney had run authentically in 2008 as who he really was, I have no doubt he would have won the GOP primary. And if he'd run his whole campaign like he ran in Michigan, he would have been the nominee. Romney has a good story to tell. He has compelling experience and achievements. He can frame a more believable message on the economy than any of the other candidates. And it appears that is just what he intends to do this time around.

Voters crave authenticity. Romney needs to just be who he is and quit trying to turn himself into a pretzel for the right, as he did last time around. I hate to wear ties. They're not me. But my simple advice to Mitt Romney for the most difficult of pursuits: Wear a tie, speak the truth, and make no apologies.

Mitt Romney is a businessman, a turnaround artist, a CEO. That is who he is. The former governor has experience in the public and private sector. He uniquely understands the economy of both worlds. And that is what makes him different than President Obama. To wear a tie is not to adopt some pseudo-sartorial persona à la Naomi "Al-you-must-wear-earth-tones" Wolf; to wear a tie is a statement of his strength as a CEO, a reminder to voters stressed by the nation's economic sclerosis.

Brought in as CEO to rescue the financially and ethically bankrupt 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, Romney turned the organization's $379 million deficit into a $100 million profit. As CEO of Bain Capital, Romney invested in businesses, making venture capital available to fuel innovation and improve profitability. And as CEO of Massachusetts, Gov. Romney streamlined the executive branch, consolidated agencies, and closed corporate tax loopholes to help address a $3 billion inherited budget deficit.

CEOs make hard decisions; sometimes, the least worst is the right one. Faced with a $1 billion bill each year to provide "free" healthcare to Massachusetts's uninsured, Gov. Romney wrestled with the same question we now face as a nation: Should adults with sufficient income be held personally responsible for purchasing their own basic health insurance? Sometimes, that tie feels mighty tight.

My simple advice to Mitt Romney for the most difficult of pursuits: Wear a tie, speak the truth, and make no apologies.

So, just loosen it a little. Be yourself. All of yourself. Show your heart, your passion, and your self-deprecating humor. We've seen glimpses of it–in the way you face your wife's multiple sclerosis, in your defense of your faith, and in those family moments when we see you with your hair mussed up.

But do speak the truth with force. You're right: "It's time for America to pursue the difficult course ahead, to confront the looming problems, to strengthen the foundations of our prosperity, and to secure the sources of our liberty and safety. The sacrifice and hard work will not sap our national strength; they will restore it."

And make no apologies. Conservatives don't want any more apologies. Go on the offensive, not defensive. Tell us again and again why your vision for America is right. And how it's different than the road we are now on.

Romney has his challenges, but he has a good team and has become a strong and disciplined candidate. He's going to get roughed up pretty good, but he's looking more and more like he's ready for the fight.

Electability Index

The top 10 factors, using a 40-chad scale (with a maximum of ★★★★ for each category).

  1. Rationale for running: To get our economy going again. He's on it like a laser. ★★★★
  2. Emotional connection: Needs work. ★★☆☆
  3. Resonance/Relevancy of message: It's the sweet spot. ★★★★
  4. Message discipline: He's a better candidate now. ★★★★
  5. Candidate preparation: He knows the drill. ★★★☆
  6. Life experience: True breadth of experience. A lot of private AND public sector experience. ★★★☆
  7. Political/government experience: Governor of Massachusetts. ★★★★
  8. Fundraising strength: $10 million in one day! ★★★★
  9. Base: Job creators, party loyalists, New Englanders. Needs to win more of the grass roots. ★★☆☆
  10. General election appeal: He'll have to work to convince blue collar voters he's not an elitist. ★★☆☆

Total score: 32 out of 40

As vice chairman of Hill & Knowlton and Public Strategies, and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono. McKinnon is co-founder of No Labels and co-chair of Arts & Labs.