Mitt's Charlie Card

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  February 22, 2012

What Romney has not done, as Baker never did, is define himself as a different kind of Republican — the way Scott Brown did in his special-election victory 10 months before Baker's loss.

2_ Building the candidate around the strategy

Romney is notorious for calculating his beliefs, rhetoric, and even clothing to match the way he wants to position himself in any given campaign. Baker was guilty of the same.

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As smart as it may seem in theory, that approach ends up stifling the candidate's personality in a high-profile election, when voters expect to really get to know him.

"For some reason, [Baker and Romney] both believed they couldn't run as themselves," says Doug Rubin, senior strategist for Patrick's re-election campaign. "At the end of the day, people see through that."

3_ Over-criticizing

At the start of 2010, Patrick was an enormously unpopular governor. But he was not widely disliked as a person. So, when Baker slammed him in over-the-top ways, it didn't resonate — and even played into Patrick's self-portrayal as a leader fighting against powerful forces of resistance.

The Patrick administration's decision to adopt national education standards was a perfect example. Rather than contrasting that move with his own vision for state education, Baker ranted about the betrayal of the Bay State's children, and even claimed that the Massachusetts Teachers Union had bought the policy change with its endorsement.

Romney faces an identical scenario. And yet, his claims about Obama have been extreme: that he is an appeaser and an apologist; that he golfs rather than governs; and that the election is for "the soul of the country."

None of this rings true with the ordinary, average voters who will decide this election.

4_ Failing to find a fatal flaw

More than once I asked Baker campaign personnel what made Patrick a bad governor — not the symptoms, but the disease. Is he too liberal? Out of touch? Disengaged? In the pocket of special interests? Over his head against other political forces? Simply incompetent?

They could never give me — or voters — a concise answer. They could rattle off statistics and examples demonstrating his failure, but those didn't necessarily mean Patrick would be unsuccessful going forward. Patrick, by contrast, drew a narrative about partial successes flowing from his personal priorities and persistence, in the face of difficult economic and political headwinds.

Romney's portrait of Obama has resembled Baker's disconnected reading of symptoms, from high unemployment to Iran's efforts to develop nuclear weapons. So far, he has offered no coherent argument to explain why Obama has erred, and will inevitably continue to do so.

5_ Botching the business background

Romney and Baker both have exceptional success stories to tell of running organizations. Neither has found a way to describe those successes for voters, or articulate how they brought it about.

This made it easy for Democrats to define those histories through negatives. But more importantly, it deprived both men of a compelling personal narrative.

As with the criticism of the incumbent, it's not enough to trot out the symptoms of success in business — the money made, the jobs created, the turnaround achieved. Voters need a sense of how the individual accomplished it — a tale in which his traits led to accomplishment, and can be trusted to do so again.

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