With a primary victory in Texas, what has been true for more than a month is now official: Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee for president of the United States in the 2012 election. Romney staved off rather mediocre opposition, including a disgraced former Speaker of the House and the CEO of a pizza chain that clearly has never owned a map, but what matters is that he is now the GOP’s nominee and will take on incumbent President Barack Obama in the general election. As is true with any candidate, Romney is now tasked with trying to win over voters by presenting his plan for the future of this country. The problem for Romney is that his campaign appears to be stuck in the past.
Take, for example, his two-and-a-half minute campaign video entitled “The Promise of America.” The schmaltzy clip is the opening salvo for his general election strategy and is intended to capture the “true spirit” of America, its people, and inspire the belief that Romney has their best interests at heart. Romney will fight for the American people and the American way of life. There’s one big problem: there aren’t any people of color in this video.
It’s inter-cut with speeches Romney has made across the country during the primary campaign, and there isn’t much he can do about who has or hasn’t shown up to his rallies. But in the staged moments, the Romney campaign didn’t think to add any black, Latino, Asian, or Native Americans into their vision of the fabric of America. They got young, old, men, and women, but neglected to include anyone of a darker hue. This is problematic on a few levels.
No one expects that Romney will win any significant portion of the black vote, but one thing every candidate knows in multicultural America is that during general election time you must appear to pander to every demographic, in order to attract those white swing voters who do care about the idea of America as melting pot. It’s why Romney visited a predominantly black school in West Philadelphia last week. He wasn’t trying to win black votes, but to appear compassionate to white voters. This video undoes some of that work.
Romney also has had a problem courting the Latino vote. Where former President George W. Bush made inroads to bring Latinos into the Republican fold, Sen. John McCain lost considerable ground during his presidential run in 2008. Not only does Romney start with that deficit, he’s losing even more potential Latino voters, attributable in part to his hardline stance on immigration reform. Latinos aren’t single issue voters, but it’s hard to win them back to your side if your inspirational campaign video leaves them out of the future of America.
The Asian-American vote, as pointed out on this past weekend’s Melissa Harris-Perry Show, is ill-defined and not discussed, but could be crucial in a tight election. But again, in the opening moments of his campaign, Romney seems to think them as invisible as any other person of color.
Perhaps the campaign didn’t hear that, for the first time, more babies of color were born in the United States than white babies. Or maybe they are still stuck in primary campaign mode, where they only have to appeal to the very narrow base of the Republican party, which sadly is constituted of mostly white people. It may be that Romney is uncomfortable around people of color and didn’t know how to include them in this video. He could have run the risk of inexplicably repeating the chorus to “Who Let the Dogs Out?” as he did on the campaign trail in 2007 while posing for a picture with a group of black teenagers. Maybe this is more sinister, and Romney and crew actually don’t see people of color being a part of the America they envision. Whatever the case, this is true: Romney is a bad politician, and this is a prime example of that.
Mistakes like these feed the narrative that he is out of touch with where America is right now, a perception he can ill afford. That no one in the campaign at any point stopped to ask whether the video should go out without at least one person of color featured speaks to the myopia of the people he surrounds himself with. Romney is a candidate of the past trying to convince America he should be chosen to lead its future. But he doesn’t even know who it is he’s trying to lead.
Follow Mychal Denzel Smith on Twitter at @mychalsmith