Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign – in my view – suffers from two very basic disadvantages. One is the poorest staff work since George Armstrong Custer. And two is – Mitt Romney.

I’ve followed his career for a long time. Honestly, until this interminable campaign – both primary and general – I’ve had a rather positive view of his public life. No question his contacts within the world business community – and $750 million federal dollars – served him well in pulling the Salt Lake Olympics out of a large hole.

His years as Governor of Massachusetts were largely positive. Romneycare has proven effective in getting nearly all residents of the state covered by some sort of health insurance. The welfare waiver he asked for at that time – which he now wrongly blames the current President for granting other states – was used to build some effective programs – with lots of federal dollars – got people back to work. Good things in environmental work, too.

But from day one in the primaries through today, the Mitt Romney I see and hear is not the same guy. He’s just not. He seems to have lost whatever leadership skills he had that got him this far. He has a near-daily proclivity for being in the wrong place on many issues, saying whatever the person standing next to him wants to hear, not offering a pathway for the future or a plan to get there and not wholly committing himself to his quest.

Take his staff. Please. (A little Henny Youngman there.) In major political races, any candidate starting off without a topnotch staff does so with two strikes against him. Or her. No major candidate – none – can stay on top of all the issues, much less new ones like Libya which can develop overnight. That’s a primary staff function. Keep track of all important items; condense facts; brief the candidate daily – hourly if necessary; provide talking points; make sure the candidate gets all relevant information. Keep Romney “on task.” Do everything you can to solve problems before they get to him. That’s the essence of a good team. You’ll never be successful without it.

But Romney’s people – and other advisors around him – are either doing such work and being ignored – which usually causes good folks to quickly depart – or they’re not operating as a team. This often results in conflicting advice – or terrible advice. Either way, outside political professionals are starting to be critical of Romney’s support people and pointing to inside failures – including those chosen advisors – which seem to be making Romney appear out-of-touch and unprepared. Can you say “Libya?”

Here’s a single issue to prove my point. Tax returns. Some top people on the Romney team are old-hands. Putting the candidate’s financial affairs in the public record is a no-brainer. They know it’s been done for decades. Especially in this case – Romney’s own father! And they know the stink and off-message problems caused when you don’t offer financial transparency. Ed Gillespie and others know better. I have to believe Romney was advised to put his returns out there – and overruled staff.
If staff did NOT try to make the case – on just this one issue – then see “George Armstrong Custer” above. Believe me, there are other instances showing lack of – or bad – staff support.

Then, in my view, Romney suffers from – Romney. Somewhere along the way, he flunked out of “Candidate School.” He’s a textbook example of how to conduct a losing campaign. And he shows it daily. If about 40% of his supporters didn’t dislike the sitting president more than him, he’d lose in a landslide.

One failure is his inability – or refusal – to state where he wants the nation to go, to tell voters what he wants to get done and how he’ do it. He offers no vision relevant to today’s issues. He seems incapable of communicating in human terms that he knows what people are going through today and can’t express his deep concerns. Remember Bill Clinton’s “I feel your pain?”

The above litany leaves me with this conclusion. Either he can’t do these things – which every successful presidential candidate in my lifetime has done – or he won’t. If it’s “won’t,” my guess is he doesn’t think they’re important. Another factor he hasn’t shared is who he’d appoint to various cabinet positions. Or the types of people he’d appoint to the Supreme Court. Voters deserve to know who he’d turn to for executive and judicial talent. It says a lot about the man. So far, he refuses to answer the question. If his present underperforming staff is an example of his people skills for filling key job openings, it’s not a good example.

Many years ago, I asked Sen. Frank Church (D-ID) why he was running for president. “I’ve been in the Senate for two decades – sort of like being on the board of directors,” he said. “Now’s I’d like to be chairman of the board.” He certainly was well-qualified. His answer stuck me nearly 40 years ago as heartfelt. Not necessarily sufficient. But honest.

Romney certainly has “chairman” experience. But my gut tells me he wants to BE president without actually BEING president. To be “Chairman Romney.” In business, the chairman is not the day-to-day doer – the worker – the hands-on operator. Most operating decisions – and problems -are handled before they get to him

But the president’s official job description likely starts off with the words “problem solver.” Remember George Bush’s declaration “I am the decider?” He was right. Because the Oval Office is where national “problems” go for solutions. The president is also an instigator of issues and the work to be undertaken by his administration. And the president represents one-third of the way our government is designed – legislative, judicial and executive. He must be “hands-on.” Every day.

I just don’t get the feeling Romney looks at the job that way. He doesn’t seem to have a working plan – a vision – a direction – steps to solve our national woes. He shows a distaste for detail. Or if he knows his detail, he won’t share it. He and Ryan have both said “We’ll talk about tax cuts/Social Security/Medicare after the election.” Both Romney and his wife have repeatedly shown they have little to no idea what is weighing down the middle class. Remember his advice to students needing financial aid to go to college? “Go borrow it from your parents.”

More and more I feel being president is something Romney wants to “achieve” more than “be.” It’s the top rung on the political (business?) ladder. It’s the top-of-the-mountain and a lifetime achievement few have realized.

When I think of some of our greatest presidents, I can’t associate the word “chairman” with any of them. When I think of Romney, I have the same difficulty with the word “president.”

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