With his victory Tuesday night in the Texas primary, Mitt Romney has locked up the Republican presidential nomination, pushing past the 1,144 delegates needed for a majority. Now he is focusing more than ever on finding a strategy for defeating President Obama in November. What's next for Romney?
Here's what an assortment of Romney advisers, Republican strategists, and political scientists say he needs to do next:
1. Take control of the Republican National Convention. This might be more difficult that it seems since libertarian Ron Paul, a congressman from Texas, remains in the GOP race in a bid to exert as much influence as possible on the GOP platform. His supporters also want Paul to give a prime-time speech at the August event. Paul is discouraging confrontation, but Republican officials and Romney backers are concerned that some of his die-hard supporters will be disruptive and veer away from the themes that Romney wants to promote.
A number of GOP veterans including former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House, say Romney should be conciliatory and respectful but not surrender his controlling influence. He will, after all, have a majority of delegates and take on the mantle of party leader. The GOP nightmare scenario is for Paul backers to stage protests and street actions, all broadcast on the TV news, making it appear that the GOP is a party of loose cannons or uncontrollable zealots. This would hurt Romney's chances in the fall against President Obama.
2. Unify conservatives. GOP strategists say Romney still has not shown some on the right that he is truly one of them. Many see him as a "moderate from Massachusetts," as his GOP rivals labeled him during the primaries based on his record as governor of the Democrat-leaning state of Massachusetts. Political scientist Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution, says one theme that would unify conservatives and not alienate independents is a blunt and often-repeated pledge to make government smaller, more efficient, and attuned to everyday people. This is something, ironically, that President Bill Clinton did when he declared that the era of "big government" was over. It went over very well. Galston is a former senior White House adviser to Clinton.
3. Pivot to swing voters. Once he is formally nominated, Romney needs to show independent voters—who will be crucial in the battleground states such as Colorado, Florida, and Ohio—that he hasn't been captured by right-wing orthodoxy. He might do this in his choice of a vice-presidentlal running mate—selecting someone who is conservative but is not seen as extreme. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman or former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush are among those who would fill the bill. Of course this effort could run counter to his objective of unifying conservatives, demonstrating the tightrope walk that Romney faces. A central part of this strategy also is to persuade swing voters that President Obama has been a failure, especially on the economy.
4. Tell his personal story to make him more likeable. Seeming remote from the problems of everyday people is a big problem for Romney, one of the wealthiest men ever to seek the presidency. His stint running Bain Capital, a private-equity firm, also has been a target for Obama and the Democrats, who say Romney learned how to make lots of money, not how to create jobs or help communities. Some of his supporters want him to talk more about his close-knit family and perhaps about his service as a Mormon missionary, as ways to humanize him. Others say it would be better for him to give up on showing empathy, and simply tell America how he has a track record of taking broken institutions and businesses and improving them. This is what is known in political circles as the "repairman" strategy—in which Romney demonstrates that he can fix things, and now he wants to fix the economy.
5. Find some new ideas. This could be the trickiest problem of all. Romney has been a relatively conventional candidate so far, and he doesn't like to take risks or stray too far from what he considers the tried-and-true. But finding a new idea or two could prompt doubting voters to give him another look. And it might be so surprising that it could make him more appealing in general.
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" atusnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News digital weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook and Twitter.