Marketing Mitt

The current issues of two national magazines for the liberal elite intelligensia (and I mean that in a good way) both contain features by top-notch veteran political journos, both writing about the marketing of "Mitt Romney," a product now on sale in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina that bears some resemblance to an earlier prototype previously available, under the same brand name, here in Massachusetts. The New Yorker,'s story is "The Mission: Mitt Romney's strategies for success," by Ryan Lizza; Harper's has "Making Mitt Romney: How to fabricate a conservative," by Ken Silverstein.

Neither one gets deep enough for me, but both serve as excellent guides for a national audience, and both provide enough new details and anecdotes to make them well worth reading.

The best of the material may be the first two pages of Lizza's story, in which Lizza follows Romney around New Hampshire and lets you watch the selling of the product. As Lizza correctly notes, this is far beyond typical political pandering -- Romney seeks to be the most ardent believer in whatever his current audience wants to hear. He tells a global-warming worrier that "we're going to dramatically reduce our greenhouse gases," a promise that, Lizza points out, is quite different from what his own campaign literature says. He jokes to an audience about all the great food he's eaten at all his NH stops that day, when in fact, Lizza says, Romney ate almost nothing offered. To two women in a diner, Mitt mis-states a law he championed in Massachusetts, making it sound like what they have asked for when in reality it is a perfect example of what they were complaining of.

Unfortunately for Romney buffs, Lizza then re-tells the tale of Mitt Romney, the person -- deep Mormon roots, business consulting career, Olympic turnaround, frustrated governor. It's well done, but doesn't get us behind the process of the man now willing to render his entire identity subservient to the process of creating and marketing "Mitt Romney," Presidential candidate.

Silverstein traipses south to the strange political turf of South Carolina for his story, and is allowed a slight peek behind the curtain, including an interview with the full-contact-consultant extraordinaire J. Warren Tompkins. Silverstein does a good job presenting the fundamental product flaws that the marketing and sales teams must overcome -- ie, the product isn't actually something that the target customers want -- and the vast array of professionals whose job is to convince them to buy the product anyway. Unfortunately, Silverstein doesn't really get us to an understanding of how they intend to do it, but he lays the scene for us to watch when it happens.

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