Romney runs campaign like CEO; is it too much?
WASHINGTON (AP) — Mitt Romney seems to be both candidate and campaign CEO these days, and some Republicans say he's trying to do too much.
He reviews TV ads and polling data on an iPad. He writes many of his speeches. He's often talking like a consultant.
One instance of that gave him trouble last week, when a secretly taped speech to donors was posted online just as polls show him narrowly trailing President Barack Obama.
"Here are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them," Romney said at the May fundraiser. "And so my job is not to worry about those people — I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Democrats accused Romney of writing off half of the country. The former Massachusetts governor insisted he was just talking about the polls and trying to make the point that 47 percent of people probably will support the Democratic incumbent, no matter what their reasons.
Some Republicans grimaced.
They say Romney's explanation was evidence of a big problem with his campaign: The nominee simply is taking on too many duties. Romney's job is to inspire voters, they say, and not manage every detail of his campaign.
"He was talking about the electorate as if it were a ledger sheet," said Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist who worked closely with Romney on his 2008 presidential campaign. "It diminishes him."
More broadly, the episode illustrated Romney's leadership style, which he's honed over decades in the private sector, where he was an actual CEO. It also provided a look at how he might lead the country as president.
Romney spokesman Kevin Madden defended Romney's approach.
"It's his campaign," Madden said. "On a campaign like this, everything is derived from the candidate's vision, and the reason they are offering their leadership to the American people."
During three decades in private business, Romney made big money turning around struggling companies with hands-on leadership and a laser-like focus on the smallest details.
Romney insists all is well with his campaign despite several rocky weeks.
"It doesn't need a turnaround. We've got a campaign which is tied with an incumbent president to the United States," Romney told CBS' "60 Minutes" for an interview set to air Sunday.
Like most presidential candidates, Romney keeps a close team of aides and advisers. They describe campaign decision-making at the highest levels as collaborative discussion where advisers have the chance to offer opinions. Romney does delegate responsibility. For example, he put longtime aide Beth Myers in charge of the search for a running mate.
But he also is directly involved with many parts of the campaign.
He likes to watch the TV ads before they go on the air. He reviewed Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan's financial information before selecting him for the No. 2 spot. He's rarely separated from chief strategist Stuart Stevens. They often spend hours conversing and poking at an iPad on the campaign's charter plane. If Romney's not with Stevens, he's often calling him.
Then there's the political jargon Romney has adopted.
Why did Romney want support from Donald Trump even though the real estate mogul pushed debunked theories about Obama's birth certificate?
"I need to get 50.1 percent or more and I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people," Romney said earlier this year.
Why wasn't he releasing more than two years of tax returns?
"In political environment that exists today, the opposition research of the Obama campaign is looking for anything they can use to distract from the failure of the president to reignite our economy," Romney said.
It's all too much for Peggy Noonan, a conservative columnist and former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, who last week wrote in her column: "The candidate can't run the show. He can't be the CEO of the campaign and be the candidate."
"The candidate is out there every day standing for things, fighting for a hearing, trying to get the American people to listen, agree and follow," Noonan wrote Friday. "The candidate cannot oversee strategy, statements, speechwriting, ads. He shouldn't be debating what statistic to put on slide 4 of the PowerPoint presentation."
Romney publicly shrugs off such talk. He has embraced his CEO skills, saying he would use a hands-on model to govern the country and follow the example set by his father, George Romney, who served as governor of Michigan.
Former business colleagues say that's how Romney has operated his whole career.
As CEO of Bain Capital, Romney paid careful attention to the companies he invested in and often possessed a deep knowledge of the numeric requirements for success. Detail was what made Bain different from other private equity firms in the first place. Instead of just investing money, Bain would delve deep into each company, getting to know the ins and outs of its business almost better than the company itself did.
Bain Capital carefully avoided what company veterans call "imponderables" — enterprises where success hinged on doing something that couldn't really be estimated. A biotechnology firm working on a cancer cure, for example, could offer a high payoff, but it was difficult to assess just how likely it was that the research would ever succeed. Instead, the companies were often old manufacturing enterprises or companies that sell everyday products.
Presidents have to solve those types of intractable problems.
"I've seen how the issues that come across a president's desk are always the hard ones," first lady Michelle Obama said recently. "The problems where no amount of data or numbers will get you to the right answer."
Associated Press writer Phillip Elliott contributed to this report.
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