Keep the Faith

Mark McKinnon’s Memo to Romney Staffers: These Dark Days Will Pass

They guided their man to frontrunner status, despite his health-care handicap, and now he’s facing a delegate battle and constant ‘Seamus’ references. But former Bush and McCain adviser Mark McKinnon tells Romney’s foot soldiers that their man will win.

03.17.12 8:45 AM ET

Dear Stuart, Russ, Ben, Matt, Andrea, and all my other old Bush and McCain friends now in Romneyville,

I know you are loyal foot soldiers. I know you believe in your guy and actually really like him. I know you are consummate professionals who have done an amazing job of helping Romney get to where he is today. And I know you would be the last to take credit and the first to give it to your candidate.


I also know you are deep in the pain locker. My God, how miserable you must be. No one cuts you an inch of slack. No one steps back to recognize how incredible it is that you have managed to take a candidate who created the blueprint for Obamacare, the one issue Republicans all agree is the president’s Achilles’ heel, and made him the frontrunner. Before this primary got going, pundits aplenty, including yours truly, couldn’t imagine how he would unwrap himself from around that mandate axle.

And yet he has. Which is incredible. Imagine if Obama had been for the Iraq War, the one issue Democratic voters were united against in the last election. Think he could have survived that primary?

But what are you having to deal with? Seamus, the dog, on the roof of the car. Still. Really? Life was hard in the presidential microwave during the last three cycles, but I can’t even imagine what it’s like now, with the carnivorous tentacles of social media at every turn—no matter which way you turn. And with the unconventional challenges of this race, the burn rate—of both cash and people—must be enormous. 

Everyone has an opinion for what you should do, including me. And all the opinions are different. And righteously convinced. Of course there is the classic: “Let Mitt be Mitt.” Or, “Let Mitt be anyone but Mitt.” Be more off the leash. More on the leash. Show his human side. Show his business side.

He’s being advised to be more conservative, be more moderate. Stop attacking, go on the offensive. Relax, don’t screw up. Ditch the tie, forget the jeans. Be more relatable, don’t try to be cool. Have fun, get angry. Muss your hair. Be authentic. Fess up, stand your ground. Plan to find a spontaneous moment of strength.

Search “Mitt” and “advice” on Google, and you’ll find 51 million other ideas.

And now you are in a delegate battle, which you are likely to win. But now you’ll be criticized by everyone (again including me) that your campaign is all about mechanics and no music.

There are no magic message bullets that haven’t been considered and tried. There will be no magic VP savior to make all things right.

The good news, and probably the only good news, is you know what I know. When your candidate gets the nomination and gives the speech at the convention, he will suddenly have a cape and an “S” on his chest. Gas prices may be at $5 a gallon. Tensions between Iran and Israel may have finally burst. Or pick any of hundreds of potential scenarios that could have a big impact on the campaign.

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Stuff happens. And then all of these dark days will seem like ancient history, and you will all look like wizards. And Romney will look like Ronald Reagan. For one brief moment, all the hell you’ve suffered through will seem worth it.

But then Romney will have to be president.

And these days, as Mitch Daniels points out, that could be the worst part of winning.