By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding
If only we could all communicate as clearly and powerfully as Mitt Romney. Well, as clearly and powerfully as he did last week, anyway, in an anti-Trump speech the New York Times called “open warfare.”
The communications track record of the 2012 Republican presidential candidate has not been perfect. Exhibit “A” would be his “47 percent” comment, in which he wrote off half the electorate by referencing the proportion of Americans who did not pay federal income tax (for various reasons), and were therefore supposedly Obama supporters about whom Romney said it was not “my job” to win over. The gaffe was pivotal in costing him the White House, because it was unbecoming of a US president, elected as they are to represent all the people.
Which brings us to Donald Trump.
This just might, maybe, possibly be coloured by my personal views on Trump, but in my estimation, Romney’s anti-Trump speech was one seriously exquisite piece of communication. Arrestingly clear, shocking and mocking, Romney stripped Trump bare and then shredded him to tiny pieces. It was a point-by-point evisceration every bit as breathtaking as the Bautista bat-flip.
If you are someone who opposes Trump, read the transcript and you will ooh and aah like a kid watching fireworks. If you are someone who supports Trump, read the transcript and you will groan like a kid watching your big brother get beaten up at recess. (Or, taking a cue from your big brother, you will deny that a beating has even taken place.)
At any rate, supporters and opponents alike – whether they agree with the substance of Romney’s message or not – should agree that his speech is a master class in communication and argumentation. What can we learn from it – and then put to use in our own messaging?
1. I’ve Told You a Million Times: Don’t Exaggerate
The single most important reason Romney’s speech is so breathtaking is that we never expected this kind of bluntness from him. This man’s brand is all about being reserved. Measured. Dignified. So when he says “Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University” (considered by many a scam), we are jolted to attention.
The takeaway is akin to the fable of the boy who cried wolf. Keep your messages measured, so when you really, truly need to grab the attention of your audience, you can dial it up – and get people sitting up straight.
2. The Messenger Matters
Along with the 47% remark, the key reason Romney lost the 2012 election? He’s wealthy. Very wealthy. His opponents skewered him as a heartless corporate raider with an elevator for his car. So even his detractors cannot possibly deny he’s got the authority to say things like this:
“But you say, wait, wait, wait, isn’t he a huge business success? Doesn’t he know what he’s talking about? No, he isn’t and no he doesn’t. His bankruptcies have crushed small businesses and the men and women who work for them. He inherited his business, he didn’t create it. And whatever happened to Trump Airlines? How about Trump University? And then there’s Trump Magazine and Trump Vodka and Trump Steaks and Trump Mortgage. A business genius he is not.”
Romney is regarded as a business genius, and that places him among all Republican leaders as uniquely qualified to attack Trump’s self-trumpeted business credentials. Our takeaway is that to be taken seriously, there must be strong reasons to believe in our brand.
3. Humility Helps
Romney is loaded, but he still had the humility and good sense to invoke, in his remarks, a Republican legend infinitely bigger than his own: Ronald Reagan. He recalled Reagan’s exhortation, on the eve of the 1964 election, that it was “time for choosing” between a dark path or a bright one. Critically, Romney made clear that he wasn’t comparing himself to Reagan, which would have reeked of hubris and exposed him like Dan Quayle comparing himself to JFK. On the contrary – and this is great advice for anyone about to adopt what is ultimately a superior posture to a rival – Romney bowed down at the beginning of his remarks and said simply: “I’m no Ronald Reagan.”
4. Have Your Heart In The Right Place
It is impossible to predict the future, unless you are Mitt Romney predicting how Donald Trump will react to his speech:
“Let me say that again. There’s plenty of evidence that Mr. Trump is a con man, a fake….We will only really know if he’s a real deal or a phony if he releases his tax returns…I predict that there are more bombshells in his tax returns. I predict that he doesn’t give much, if anything, to the disabled and to our veterans…And I predict that despite his promise to do so, first made over a year ago, that he will never ever release his tax returns. Never…He has too much to hide.”
“Attacking me, as he surely will, won’t prove him any less of a phony. It’s entirely in his hands to prove me wrong.”
For my money, this was the most breathtaking moment of the many in Romney’s tour-de-force. It’s what cements his speech as an honourable attempt to get to the truth. He has given Trump explicit details on how to disprove himself a fraud/fake/phony/con man. Brilliantly, Romney’s conditions are not his own – he is merely asking Trump to follow through on his very own promise to release his tax returns.
So far, Romney’s prediction has proven true: Trump has done nothing about releasing his tax returns, which tells us ever more about his relationship with the truth. For he is using flimsy excuses to defy a convention in place since Gerald Ford released his tax return in 1976, to help restore faith in government damaged by the tax evasion of none other than…Richard Nixon.