Payne: One Tough Nerd Romney

Who is Mitt Romney?

His enemies in the Obama campaign and the Mainstream Media have caricatured him as top hat-wearing One Percenter who rode to success on Daddy’s coat-tails and wants to send American jobs to China. As with so much in the 2012 presidential election, it’s an eerie echo of Michigan’s 2010 gubernatorial election in which successful business candidate Rick Snyder was painted as a greedy, China-outsourcing venture capitalist.

Like Snyder, Romney is a technocrat who sees government as a failed company in need of a turnaround. He’s not a political animal, but a bi-partisan fixer who wants to get things done – an attitude that will sometimes puts him at odds with his party’s philosophically-conservative base. Sound familiar?

“I think he’d be the same kind of president as I am governor,” says Snyder whose own term has been an echo of Romney’s years in the Massachusetts governor’ office. The personable pair are friends and share the infectious optimism found in entrepreneurs.

Who is Mitt Romney? Look at his core Michigan supporters. They are not scions of the U.S. auto industry but Metro Detroit entrepreneurs who back in 2006 saw Romney’s promise as a national figure. John Rakolta, a Mormon construction entrepreneur in Detroit; Joe O’Connor, a successful Michigan entrepreneur from humble Boston roots; the Schwartz family, the deeply Catholic founders of one of Detroit’s leading financial-planning firms, and Jewish entrepreneur Dan Gilbert.

This diverse group of small businessmen – with little experience in national politics – found common cause in Michigan native Romney because of their admiration for his competence, drive, moral character, and discipline. These qualities they believe are essential to turning around a nation that they fear is adrift.

Their support explodes the myth of Romney the corporate puppet – a caricature that, ironically, better fits Obama, who has been adopted by industry heavies like GM and GE that see bounty in Obama’s crony capitalism.

Snyder’s path to the governorship – shepherded by fellow Michigan entrepreneur Ron Weiser – was similar. It’s important to note that neither Snyder nor Romney are career politicians. They see themselves as business repairman. Not coincidentally, their successful business careers led them to private equity (venture capital, in Snyder’s case) where they could bring their experience as successful CEOs to struggling or promising companies. Their greatest challenge? Turning around government.

“One Tough Nerd” was Snyder’s campaign slogan. America, meet One Tough Nerd Romney.

The analogy extends to the two men’s struggles within their own party. The GOP base was leery of Candidate Snyder’s vague, business slogans and tepid support for social issues (RINO is a term that Snyder and Romney often hear), but Snyder’s business resume appealed to cross-party and Independent-voters.

Unlike Romney, Snyder won office without facing a charismatic incumbent – or Washington’s hostile, partisan press horde. Had he faced outgoing Democrat media-darling Governor Jennifer Granholm instead of unknown Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, he would have had a tougher task.

In office, Democratic campaign smears seem a bizarre memory as Snyder has turned out exactly as he promised: An efficient, politics-averse executive who has made the hard choices in Michigan’s budget after the chaos of the Granholm years. Despite rhetorical nods to the party’s social issues platform, it has not interested him in office. And his flirtation with Obamacare’s state exchanges has kept party conservatives suspicious.

Who is Mitt Romney? The same guy. But after the searing experience of the ill-designed Romneycare, expect a more conservative reformer in office.

Indeed, his business acumen has once more guided him to name Paul Ryan as his running mate to make sure he has policy experience at hand (although, in fairness, it was the Heritage Foundation – ahem – that guided him on Massachusetts individual mandate). Ryan also represents the business executives’ desire to advance young talent in “the firm” (see Snyder and his Lt. Guv Brian Calley).

No career pol, Romney’s policy instincts are weak. Like many executives he has an eye for short-term gain which can lead to uncomfortable flip-flops. It is why businessmen take tax breaks for green energy – because it is good for their bottom line NOW, not because it is good public policy for the long run. This is also where Snyder has crossed his party base – in taking “business” opportunities like federal millions for public transit or Obamabucks to build an Obamacare exchange.

Who is Mitt Romney? President Obama has tried to paint him as out of touch with America, but in one devastating line, Romney turned that around on Obama in Tampa. “President Obama promised to stop the rise of the oceans and heal the planet,” he said of Obama’s inflated, esoteric rhetoric of four years ago. “My promise is to help you and your family.”

Thos are the earthy, practical words of a businessmen who wants to get things done. That’s the essence of President Romney – just like Governor Snyder.

Henry Payne
Henry Payne is the auto critic for The Detroit News. A 25-year newspaper veteran, Payne is also a Pulitzer Prize-nominated cartoonist with United Feature Syndicate, a former columnist and editorial writer for The News, and a contributor to The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, and other publications. His auto reviews appear every Thursday in the Drive section.