Romney's Big Win in New Hampshire, and What We've Learned About His Political Talent

More

Congratulations to Mitt Romney on an apparently very big win in New Hampshire.

The difference between the Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman "victory" speeches just now is the difference between someone (Paul) who didn't actually expect to win the nomination and was mainly advancing a cause, and someone (Huntsman) who must have entertained dreams not simply of an upset in New Hampshire but of going all the way. That made Huntsman's "third place is a ticket to ride!!!" speech brave rather than confidence-building. (It also had the unfortunate closing line, "This campaign is headed south!" Everyone knew he meant South Carolina, but...) Sorry this has not worked out better for him.

Romney is ever more clearly the presumptive nominee. A minute ago on CNN Mary Matalin said that his impressive win, on the heels of the last few days' controversy over the "I like being able to fire people" moment, shows that he is now ratified as "the champion of capitalism, and of moral capitalism." Here are some reader messages from this afternoon, before the results came in, on what the episode suggested about Romney's basic basic aptitude for politicking as he prepares to take on Barack Obama. Emphasis added for highlights in a series of long messages.

From a reader in New York:

Romney is, by all accounts, a pretty smart guy, but his "retail politics" IQ is dismal.  He gives every appearance of having spent nearly all of his life in a bubble with other wealthy, intelligent folks and has never learned the language of retail politics.  You really have to wonder if Romney has any empathy for working class people or, for that matter, white collar workers who have been laid off or whose incomes have been reduced in this economy and their families.  He shows absolutely no signs of understanding the problems faced by these people, except in the most abstract sense.
 
Romney's one real asset as a candidate is his claim to private sector/business experience.  While I think that this has nothing to do with one's qualifications to be President... it appears that many voters think that business success is a plus.  In the grand tradition of Karl Rove, the Democrats' strategy should be to attack Romney at his strength... The most effective attack that can be launched at Romney is to focus on those deals where he and Bain made millions off of companies that then went into bankruptcy or failed.  I believe that voters generally admire someone who has made a lot of money, but they don't like it if that person made money unfairly or at the expense of others' suffering.  Fairness is a critical issue for everyone, and if the Democrats can drive home the fact that Romney profited at the expense of workers, he'll be toast come November.  And, by the way, I don't believe Romney has the personality or charisma or political adeptness to overcome this problem.

And from reader Tom Cammarata, who grew up in Michigan:

Perhaps it's because I've spent 40 years in advertising that for me it isn't so much the context of Mr. Romney's "firing" remark as it was that he let himself say it at all. Like his "corporation are people" comment, it demonstrates a lack of ability to monitor and control himself in a non-scripted situation.

When making presentations to clients -- and especially to potential clients -- we had to be ready for questions, sometimes out of left field, and be careful with off-hand, flippant answers, because it is so easy to be misunderstood.

Mr. Romney doesn't seem either to comprehend the danger of fast responses, or thinks he can talk his way out of a bad trap once he's fallen in it. Like many CEOs and managers I've encountered who sometimes speak before they think, he thinks he'll be forgiven because of his position or status.

Good speakers train themselves to take a mental breath, then a real one, when hit with comeback or comment from a live audience. This is absolutely crucial in public office or statesmanship. And if Mr. Romney doesn't learn such mouth control soon, he may find that he quipped his way of the Republican nomination.

PS: I grew up in Detroit when George Romney ran for governor. Among teenage boys he was favored because, while president of American Motors, he produced a Rambler with reclining seats, which made him the only man to figure out how to put a bed in the back seat of a car. A teenager's dream!

From a business person in Virginia:

I recently had the experience of firing a long term ( 20+ years) employee.  It was well deserved, although there was no one "smoking gun", but our field sales force essentially voted him off the island for not being responsive to their needs, and this had been a complaint for many years.  Unfortunately it fell to me to do what prior management should have done 10 or more years ago.  I can tell you that for me personally doing the deed, it really sucked

He has a wife and two teen aged kids, and all I could think about is how you go home at 3:00 in the afternoon a month before Christmas to tell your family that you are no longer employed.  This is a daily reality in the "at will employment" workforce, and although I can fully justify this termination, it was a very difficult thing for me to do.  It is a very tough labor market, and the availability of healthcare is a serious issue for workers (and their families) in their 50's, so I certainly don't take it lightly.  I consider it a personal failure for not being able to turn his performance around.  I spent several sleepless nights, and still don't feel good about it.
 
The point I think Romney was trying to make about firing those who do not provide the services we pay them for is a better point, but is still not easy....As others have pointed out, if the issue is something like health care, you may not have the option of firing your provider unless you have readily available options.  With healthcare, that is often not the case.

I hope I never enjoy ending someone's job.

After the jump, a reader who thinks that if anything Romney was too mealymouthed about the firing issue.

A lifelong Republican voter writes:

Lots and lots of sanctimonious bullshit about firing people.  Incompetents (and they are legion) need to be sent on their way to a chance at real success. The start of that discovery process for them is being fired.  Somebody has to do it, and if it is me, I will not feel bad, regardless of the fact that his/her children will have an unemployed Dad/Mom. or that they might lose their house, or any of the rest of the bullshit reasons that people give for "Hating" to fire people.  Sometimes firing people is a part of the job, and if you hate your job, find another.

Reductions in force due to market and/or technology adjustments are tougher, I admit.  But... smart, forward looking people see the changes and plan accordingly.  The others do not, and that is, in the final analysis, their problem, not the problem of the person who delivers the news.  If those people were really on their game, they would have seen it coming and "Walked before they made me run" as Keith Richards might put it.

As for the people that just need to get fired because they are irritating assholes (yes, I have been fired for just this reason, and knew it, and knew I deserved it) no problem.  Those people are costing the company every day, and the sooner they are gone, the better.  They are freed to find the kind of opportunity that better suits their needs, and I mean that without irony or rancor.

Not one thing wrong with firing people, or getting fired.  Not in  my book.  And neither is a horrible experience for a well adjusted, intelligent person.  Ill adjusted or unintelligent people will always have trouble, and there is nothing we can do about that.

Now, on to New Hampshire....  I never voted for a Democrat in my life, and I never will.  There is not one Republican currently in the race that I will vote for.  I will not vote for Obama, or third party.  I just will not vote.  That may be, effectively, a vote for Obama (whom I disdain rather than loathe) and I can live with it.  I voted for McCain, and decided I would never feel that bad about a vote again.  I will sit home before I do.

Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.


Video

What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Politics

From This Author

Just In