It was mostly overlooked (due to the more controversial news), but yesterday’s New York Times featured an interesting look at Team Romney’s efforts to stage the upcoming Republican convention. As the headline describes, the goal is to “reveal a warm Romney.”
To accomplish this, Romney has brought in some pros. According to the Times, they “hail from the Broadway stage, the control rooms of NBC and the design studios that created sleek sets for Oprah Winfrey and Jon Stewart.”(Emphasis mine.)
It’s always weird to see the sausage being made, but it’s not surprising Romney would bring in some advisers from the entertainment world. This is nothing new. After all, an executive producer for The Mike Douglas Show named Roger Ailes left his TV gig to help repackage Richard Nixon for TV consumption. Ronald Reagan certainly tapped into his Hollywood experience during his campaigns. And Designing Women producers Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason “had a hand in several important campaign events” for pal Bill Clinton.
If there was ever a time to bring in the big guns, this is it. There are a select few moments during a general election campaign when average folks pay attention to politics. And this is still one of them. Unlike the debates, the candidate can (almost) fully control the environment at his party’s nominating convention. For this reason, it is wise to devote care and attention to the details.
And one such detail is stagecraft. Interestingly, modern presidential campaigns still struggle with this. Just four years ago, Barack Obama was mocked for his Greek columns (too gaudy and haughty), and Sen. John McCain opted for a “glaring green backdrop” that sometimes displayed images that didn’t match his speech. So it’s probably a good sign that Team Romney is focused on this.
As the Times notes,
The campaign aides are determined to overcome perceptions that Mr. Romney is stiff, aloof and distant. So they have built one of the most intricate set pieces ever designed for a convention — a $2.5 million Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired theatrical stage. From its dark-wood finish to the brightly glowing high-resolution screens in the rafters that look like skylights, every aspect of the stage has been designed to convey warmth, approachability and openness.
I’m skeptical of the notion that a fancy set can somehow make a candidate seem less “stiff, aloof and distant.” Still, the Romney campaign is wise to use this opportunity to attempt to put Mitt Romney’s best face forward.
It would be a mistake to over-prep Romney, of course. You can’t make a 65-year old man someone he’s not — nor should you try. But with a bit of tweaking — and with the help of appropriate stagecraft, some “slickly produced biographical videos,” and professional branding — voters might come to see a Mitt Romney they can believe in. And, perhaps, even like.