All politics aside, there is very little someone can do to prevent unwanted images and videos from spreading across the Internet once they’ve fallen into the hands of someone determined to get them out there. This is an issue the Royal Family has become all too familiar with, but more recently the Romney campaign is suffering from what can only be described as a nightmare in public relations brought on by a video Mitt Romney never intended to be released.
In the video (embedded below) you’ll see presidential candidate Mitt Romney explain why he is targeting the 5-10% of the voters that call themselves independents over current Obama supporters. It was a moment of boldness as he stated to supporters that going to a group he feels is largely made up of people who don’t pay taxes with a message of tax cuts doesn’t connect. He generalized Obama’s supporters in his phrasing, and that’s the heart of what has made him look so terrible in this video. If he had worded it differently or simply just said he’s focused on independents because they’re the most likely to vote for him, it wouldn’t have been such a massive scandal.
We don’t know what was said before or after this clip, only that what was said is making quite a few people very upset.
So how could the Romney campaign mitigate this PR disaster? Is there any hope of overcoming this level of bad press? Here are some of my thoughts on how Mitt Romney could turn this around, or at least soften the blow in the long-term.
Below are some suggestions I would give to Governor Mitt Romney.
Open Yourself Up to Questioning on a Reddit “Ask Me Anything”
Spend a few hours doing exactly what Barack Obama did on Reddit. Put yourself in front of the firing squad (so to speak) and have a moment of honesty with the people. This would not only help you shed a little of that elitist image, but allow you to give direct answers to the people’s questions in a way that doesn’t come off as scripted or simply staged.
Don’t shy away from the tough questions, either. People will be more impressed by your candid honesty (as long as it’s civil and polite) than by talking points and rehearsed rhetoric.
Go on an Interview Tour
Let’s face it: that video will circulate around the Web until election day. You could pretend it didn’t happen and hope people forget about it, or bite the bullet and explain yourself on shows that count themselves among your critics.
I’m not saying you should get into a heated debate with Bill Maher here, but perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to take a moment to address the video (and perhaps add context) on a few late shows and perhaps some radio programs.
Aggressive Social Media Strategies
Hit Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ like never before. Do it from a personal angle, not as a campaign or a bandwagon. These are the places you’re being hit the hardest by people sharing and commenting on these videos. Take a moment to have your official social media accounts respond, and do it on the pages of your critics as opposed to your official page.
People are a lot less inclined to remain forcefully and publicly angry when the person they’re talking about has acknowledged that they’re in the room, paying attention to the conversation. Offer apologies here and ask these folks what you can do to change their mind. If anything, it’ll make a dent in the critics’ momentum.
Make the Issue About Politics in General
Sometimes, it helps to fight honesty with honesty. If the majority of the world were told that politicians on both sides of the aisle were corrupt, they’d be willing to buy it in a heartbeat. Just how many members of Congress have criminal records, or are actively being investigated for moral or ethical violations?
I’d be willing to believe that what was shared in that video is just par for the course when it comes to appealing to whatever group Mitt Romney was speaking with at the time. I don’t know enough about his character to judge, but what politician hasn’t been caught at one time or another in a situation that’s difficult to explain?
Ron Paul was practically assaulted during shooting of the movie Bruno as Cohen’s character attempted to seduce Congressman Paul during what he was led to believe was a legitimate interview.
President Obama himself had an open mic moment when he asked Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for “space,” saying that, after the election, he’ll have more flexibility.
President George W. Bush was also no stranger to the occasional open mic slip-up.
If you want to go back a little further, you could consider giving President Nixon’s famous audio tapes a listen. Needless to say, his language behind the scenes was something you wouldn’t associate with the leader of the free world.
We live in an age where technology gives us a backstage pass to the theater of politics like never before. We’re only now starting to realize just what goes on behind the scenes in an aggressive and extremely volatile world. Presidents and presidential candidates are all subject to harsh scrutiny, and I can only imagine what went on behind the scenes — before everyone had a camera on them at any given time — that we’ll never know about.
Photo: Gage Skidmore