In the 1967 blockbuster film Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman takes his final stand by telling the prison warden, "what we have here is a failure to communicate!" Little did he know that he could have been speaking in part about the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
After all, in campaigns communication failures often spell doom.
And here we are, months into what Republicans see as the defining election of our time and who is one of the legitimate contenders?
Yes, that Rick Santorum.
Why is this?
In the case of Mitt Romney, he hasn't failed to communicate. It's actually his communications successes that have led to his impending demise (and made Rick Santorum, yes that Rick Santorum, relevant).
Mitt Romney has the paradoxical ability to communicate more and yet convince less.
He has inadvertently succeeded in getting his message out about being a for-something-before-against-something candidate; an "evolving" candidate.
The consummate politician.
In fact, everything he communicates about his campaign is allowing an impossible-to-shake narrative take hold -- an election ender -- that he has no core and will say or do anything to get elected.
In 2004 the Republican machine went to work early, successfully attacking John Kerry as a flip-flopping , wind surfing, say-or-do anything to get elected politician.
War hero? Irrelevant.
Dedicated public servant? Not important.
The 2004 election was defined, and won, by the early establishment of Senator Kerry's narrative. In fact, defining Kerry's narrative helped President Bush overcome unpopular domestic and international policies -- not to mention remarkably low poll numbers.
Everything that Senator Kerry said or did after that, every policy he proposed or debate that he won, was still forced to contend with a narrative that was so powerful he simply couldn't overcome it.
Successful narratives are the basis of all winning campaigns. And the 2012 Obama campaign playbook should take a page out of Bush '04 and define Romney early and often as exactly what he is: ...[this section intentionally left blank].
Successful narratives emotionally connect with and engage people, they need characters, a plot and a moral or a solution to the problem.
Think back to Obama 08. The emotion was natural; the narrative was obvious. People were engaged and the solution was a new direction -- change.
Everything needs to flow from this. If your narrative is weak, it will be defined for you. And as Governor Romney is learning, his narrative (which he created) is being amplified for him.
When the 2012 election recaps are written pundits may look toward the improving economy or the fired-up Democratic base or the fractured Republican primary that led to an Obama victory.
But after the election, when Mitt Romney is drawing down one of his off shore accounts he would do best to reflect on the loss of his own created narrative.
Unfortunately for him, no one is having a failure communicating it.
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