Can Romney Be Like LeBron?

September 11, 2012

LeBron James should be Mitt Romney’s role model.

LeBron’s talents were recognized very early, and his personal success in high school and in Cleveland dazzled all observers. Then, with Jim Gray’s assistance, he became deeply unpopular. Finally, he emerged a champion.

Governor Romney’s trajectory was much the same. His intelligence and leadership were noticed early, at prep school and then Harvard Business and Law schools. His success at Bain Capital earned him a fortune, and helped make him Governor of Massachusetts. But, with assistance from opponents like Rick Santorum and David Axelrod, his popularity slid – so much that the Pew Poll reports he has replaced Sarah Palin as American’s least popular national political figure.

Mitt Romney and LeBron James have something else in common (aside from a desperate need to win over Ohioans). They have both apparently become worried enough about saying the wrong thing in public – creating a “gaffe” – that they have trouble answering a reporter’s questions in a way that sounds authentic. After winning at the Olympics, James was asked by Craig Sager about his remarkable string of success as a regular season MVP, NBA champion and Olympic gold medalist. It would have been perfectly normal to admit some pride in those accomplishments. But sensing a Clown Question*, LeBron said only “this is all about USA, and it’s not about me.” That’s a good sentiment, but it reflects the way LeBron has come to answer all reporters’ questions. He fears, justifiably, that anything other than rehearsed platitudes risk negative headlines. Romney gives you the same feeling. Often shielded from the press, he seems uneasy and scripted in interviews– afraid, justifiably, that a poorly chosen (or pronounced) word will become the news of the day.

The problem with this comparison for Governor Romney is that being liked is irrelevant to winning basketball games, but that’s not the case for elections. It didn’t really matter what we thought about LeBron as a person, his shot at the Larry O’Brien Trophy -- the only major sports trophy named for a former DNC chairman -- was based on his skills on the court. It was not a popularity contest. And that was also true in Romney’s earlier career in investment banking, no one had to like him for his companies to net a profit at sale. But Americans want to like their presidents, and if Romney is as down to earth a guy as his friends and family say, he better show it pretty soon.

*Normally it makes sense to expect a clown question from someone dressed like a clown. But in this case, Sager was just wearing a blue polo.

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