WASHINGTON -- "Yes We Can" was the rallying cry of the Obama campaign in 2008, fueling a belief that his election would prompt meaningful change in Washington despite all odds and the oft-mentioned "naysayers." But a new book reveals that the iconic chant, so closely linked to Obama and his message, was first a creation of Mitt Romney's team.
"The Real Romney," a new book about the GOP frontrunner by Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, details how Romney's media staff presented the slogan as part of a brutal self-assessment in 2007.
It was a few months after the Ritz-Carlton meeting, and Romney's advisers had gathered to try to address a series of questions: Who is Mitt Romney? What is the perception of him among voters? How could the campaign shape or reshape that image?
The answers were not pretty, including terms like "phony" and "You do not know where WMR [Willard Mitt Romney] comes from..." The media team's presentation made clear that Romney needed what they called a "'Primal Code for Brand Romney' -- a core message that could be embedded in the minds of voters."
One of the suggestions for that cornerstone message was Obama's future tagline:
One of the campaign's chief concerns was that Romney would be tagged, as one slide put it, as "Flip-flop Mitt," given his changes on issues such as abortion. The media team urged Romney to counter that with a forward-looking brand. One of the slides suggested that Romney use this as his catchphrase: 'Yes, we can.' But Barack Obama would take it before Romney could. Whatever the phrase, Romney had to be sold as an 'optimistic, conservative leader who is calling upon the strength of the American people [to] lead us into the future, to a better place.'
While the book does not detail how or why Romney did not use the phrase, the fears of his media team were well-founded. The McCain campaign successfully portrayed Romney as a say-anything candidate, eventually besting the former Massachusetts governor for the Republican nomination, while Obama rode "Yes We Can" and his forward-looking image to the White House.
Kranish and Helman, reporters for the Boston Globe, already published a piece for Vanity Fair adapted from the book revealing that Romney pressured single mother Peggy Hayes to give up her baby for adoption in 1963. At the time, Romney was a young church leader in Massachusetts.