How Mitt Romney’s Campaign Resembles the New York Jets’ Season

They both bet on evangelicals, take defensive approaches, and rely on a tough guy from New Jersey. Dan Gross on how similar Romney and the Jets are.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has repeatedly expressed his affinity for business owners. When asked if he was a NASCAR fan, he responded that he was friends with some NASCAR team owners. Romney similarly finds support among the elite class of professional sports franchises owners. New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, for example, is the chairman of Romney’s New York campaign, and a major fundraiser. So it comes as no surprise that the Jets, who just endured a humiliating 34-0 loss on Sunday to the San Francisco 49ers, bear certain resemblances to the Romney campaign. Let’s count the ways.

Both are occasionally overshadowed by franchises based in Wisconsin—the Packers for the Jets, vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan for Romney.

Both have relied on a blustery, plus-size, New Jersey-based, media-hogging, tough-talking guy with an over-inflated sense of his own competence as a frontman and spokesperson: head coach Rex Ryan for the Jets, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for the Romney campaign.

Both have placed bets on evangelicals but coexist awkwardly with them and hold back from letting them hold center stage. Romney’s brief history as a moderate, and lifelong history as a Mormon, have contributed to an uneasy relationship with fundamentalist Christians. At the Republican convention in Tampa, few were given primetime speaking spots. The same might be said of the Jets, who brought in Tim Tebow, the Bible-thumping, knee-taking quarterback from Denver in the off-season. Tebow has been a fish out of water in the Jets’ offense. Even in Sunday’s debacle, as incumbent quarterback Mark Sanchez struggled, going 13 of 29, for 103 yards, with one interception, Tebow remained anchored on the bench. He threw one piece (complete) and carried the ball twice.

Both have taken a defensive approach to the campaign, and find it difficult to go on the offensive. In both the primaries and the general elections, Romney has generally waged a careful campaign that frequently finds itself pinned near its own end zone thanks to gaffes and fumbles. He has struggled to seize the initiative and narrative of the campaign. And he’s constantly calling audibles that result in incomplete passes—most recently, he’s taken to touting the Massachusetts health-care mandate as a sign of empathy. Just so, the Jets are a team that has historically been based on playing tough defense first, and that has struggled for years to develop a razzle-dazzle, high-scoring offense. On Sunday, the Jets’ offense was incompetent.

Bettors give both entities long odds at success this fall. The “Nowcast” in Nate Silver’s election model on Monday gave Romney a 1.9 percent chance of winning the election. The same day, Vegas Insider had the Jets at a 30:1 longshot to win the Super Bowl.

Earlier in the season, both the Romney campaign and the Jets found themselves subject to Monday-morning quarterbacking and a dreaded quarterback controversy. In a recent Politico story, outsiders, anonymous insiders, and pundits questioned the play-calling and the game plan of the Romney campaign, and suggested that campaign QB Stuart Stevens be benched. These guys have been at it for four years, and they don’t seem to have a clue as to what to do with the ball. Which precisely echoes the criticism levied at the New York Jets offensive minds and quarterback Mark Sanchez. See this New York Post blogpost for an example: “He was flat out awful. This is now three straight weeks where he has completed less than 50 percent of his passes. If it’s not Tebow time yet, it’s getting close. The fumble at the end of the first half was an unbelievable mistake for a fourth-year player … Plain and simple, he’s not getting better.”

Appearing on Bloomberg television Monday, Jets owner Johnson was explicit about where his primary concern lay. When asked if it would mean more to him if Romney or the Jets notched a winning record this fall, he responded, “I think you always have to put country first.”