Ten Miles Square


November 09, 2012 12:40 PM What Will Mitt Do?

By Andrew Rudalevige

It’s now several days after the election, and thus time for a new spate of speculation (e.g., here, here, here) about who might serve in the second term Obama cabinet. One hot prospect is White House chief of staff (and former OMB director) Jacob Lew heading over to the Treasury Department. Will Hillary leave? Will Holder hold on? Who knows.

I do have a soft spot for personnel rumors, and personnel matters a great deal. Indeed, I will be posting as the transition goes on about various tactics re-elected presidents have used in the second term shuffle. (Some thoughts on second terms from earlier this summer are here.)

Meantime, though, I have a rumor to start myself: Mitt Romney as a presidential appointee.

I was struck by Ezra Klein’s recent musings on what drives Romney, who was historically light on public sector experience for a presidential nominee, into public service. The short version—managerial competence. Now this didn’t work so well for the last Massachusetts governor to be nominated, either – hence Romney’s contortionist reinventions throughout the primary season – but Klein argues that “What Romney values most is something most of us don’t think much about: management. A lifetime of data has proven to him that he’s extraordinarily, even uniquely, good at managing and leading organizations, projects and people. It’s those skills, rather than specific policy ideas, that he sees as his unique contribution.”

A lesson might come from Wendell Willkie, perhaps the last (and only?) “pure” businessman to receive a major party nomination.  (This narrative is drawn from Robert Mason’s terrific new book on the history of the GOP from 1929 to 1980.)

Willkie ran against FDR in 1940 as the electable moderate (the 1936 nominee, Alf Landon, said Willkie was the “excuse…needed to vote the Republican ticket” for “thousands of hard-shell Democrats who have been increasingly disillusioned and disgusted” with their party’s performance. Democrats pushed back by arguing, as Harold Ickes put it, that Willkie was “a Wall Street lawyer” whose “only claim to consideration is that he has…won the gratitude of some of the biggest interests in Wall Street.”)  After his loss, blamed as being insufficiently conservative, a “me-too” lite copy of FDR, Willkie was written out of the GOP.  Intriguingly, an advisor to Willkie noted after the election “a peculiar vein of sentimentality and lack of realism” among Republicans – notably a disinclination to believe poll results.

Yet Willkie remained active, attempting to push the party towards greater internationalism in the early 1940s and towards accepting the New Deal while working hard to make it more efficient and cost-effective. His civil libertarian credentials had been doubted by the NAACP during the 1940 campaign, but afterwards continued to work on racial equality issues to the point that NAACP president Walter White called Willkie “one of the truest friends [African-Americans] have ever had.” Willkie’s reward was to see 9 in 10 GOP activists in his home state of Indiana reject his renomination in 1944.

That same year, instead, Roosevelt invited Willkie to meet with him about the possibility of combining forces – in part, to free the Democratic Party of its reliance on Southern conservatives. The meeting, scheduled for after that November’s election, never happened – Willkie died in October. But he left an intriguing record behind.

Some Republicans have already begun to Willkie-ize Romney. “It is getting to the point where you can’t reach back and pull another establishment Republican from the queue like we have done with Romney,” Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, has declared. Whichever way the internal GOP blame-game goes, it seems unlikely that Romney will have a leading role in the national party heading to 2016.

But there are real problems now to be fixed, and even leaving aside the satisfying theatrics of the optics involved, Romney’s policy-neutral management expertise could be a real asset to the ongoing administration. Romney could energize, for instance, the once and future prospect of reorganizing the Commerce Department, Small Business Administration, and the like into one more user (and chief executive) friendly agency. He could consult on the fiscal management of sequestration (whatever version emerges). Heck, he could head the Office of Management and Budget – Ike’s budget director, Joe Dodge, was a prominent businessman.

On election night, President Obama said that he planned to “si[t] down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.”  Why not ask for more than a nice photo op?

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

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Andrew Rudalevige is a professor of government at Bowdoin College.


  • bluewave on November 09, 2012 3:57 PM:

    Good God! Romney is a thin-skinned, prickly jerk whose talent lies not in "managing" (whatever he has convinced himself), but in managing to puff up companies with hot air (debt), long enough to rake in the big bucks off of the illusory profits or the heads I win tails you lose management fees, then skip town just ahead of the house of cards coming down. He's the love child of Professor Harold Hill and Darth Vader, not the second coming of Wendell Wilkie. The only way he would take a job in the Obama cabinet would be if he could figure out a way to massively profit from it.

  • Richard Cownie on November 09, 2012 8:29 PM:

    If Romney was ever a good manager (rather than a good dealmaker), then the way he ran this campaign proves he isn't any more. He mismanaged the money so he couldn't
    run ads early; he screwed up the convention; he picked a VP
    candidate who was a liability; he ignored the polling data;
    he spent time and resources in states he couldn't win; and he was in such a bubble that he spent $25K on fireworks
    for his inevitable victory.

    Good riddance.

  • Jed Gould on November 09, 2012 11:06 PM:

    Dear heavens! You first two commenters are so vicious. I love it.

    Being head of Commerce might be a stretch even for Romney to accept. Especially after campaigning against big government. Commerce is one of the departments first mentioned when talking about what goes on the chopping block. A cryin' shame if he signed up then got canned by his former opponent.

    I love saying that Romney wanted to be president more than he wanted to lead.

  • MelanieN on November 10, 2012 1:12 AM:

    There's only one definite answer to the question "What will Mitt do?" Namely: He will file an amended 2011 tax return, so he can take all the rest of those deductions he omitted to make himself look good.

  • Rip on November 10, 2012 10:59 AM:

    bluewave and Richard Crownie expressed pretty succinctly why appointing Mitt to anything would be a bad idea. It's also ridiculous to think that after spending six years running for President that Romney would be remotely interested in a cabinet position. This is a guy who sees himself in charge, not working for someone else.

    I would imagine Romney's next goal will be to become the kind of multi-billionaire that mere politicians come to hat in hand looking for some sweet PAC money.

  • Graychin on November 10, 2012 2:05 PM:

    People who hate government aren't very good at governing.

    If Romney has any consistent governing philosophy at all beneath his constant flip-flops, it's that the private sector always does anything and everything better than the government can. Of course that's based entirely on his political dogma and not on facts. Heck - he even came to believe his own campaign's BS. This is a "data guy"? How so?

    Since Romney's brief (1992-2012) political career has failed in its ultimate goal, it's best that he go back to his real wheelhouse - not management, but playing Monopoly with real companies. He should accept that $26 million per year job that Ann said he had given up.

    But a role in an Obama Administration? Worst. Idea. Ever.

  • warren terrah on November 10, 2012 4:45 PM:

    I am not sure Obama likes Romney. Granted, he doesn't have to like Romney but I'm not sure he even respects Romney. He may have been upset at WJC's attitude in 2008 but he respected Hillary. I have to agree with the posts above. He ran a crappy ship of a campaign. Lastly, I don't think Ann would let Mitt work for Obama. Each time I saw her at the debates, her attitude towards the Obamas completely came across like she thought she was superior to them.

  • Stuart in Austin on November 10, 2012 5:17 PM:

    I expect Romney will be moved rapidly up the LDS church hierarchy. This will be his payoff for having made the Presidential run. The notion that he has any interest in public service work unrelated to LDS goals is absurd.

  • Rich on November 10, 2012 7:48 PM:

    Alter is as deluded as Ezra, who is on fast track to Beltway hackdom. Romney is nothing like Wilkie. And he has zero managment experience in the usual sense. He bought & sold companies, leaving them with debt and often hobbling their infrastructure. That's vulture capitalismn not management. Bain Capital was not a huge organization. We're not talking GE here and they had the greatly overrated Jack Welch crippling their future. No, Mittens needs to vanish into obscurity like our recent "MBA President, Bush II.

  • DRF on November 10, 2012 8:45 PM:

    At least 3 major problems with this:

    1. By all accounts, Obama really dislikes Romney. His shameless pandering and dishonesty during the campaign aren't exactly going to make him welcome in the second term.

    2. As mentioned by other commenters, Romney's background isn't really "management"; he ran an investment firm. Bain Capital had relatively few employees, most of whom were MBAs like Romney, and it had no operations to speak of. While he may have spent some time analyzing operations of companies that Bain was acquiring or investing in, for the most part he and his company studied their financials and focused on how to structure their deals. There is little in this background that would have prepared him for running a large cabinet department or any other large organization.

    3. Romney seems to have relatively little interest in public policy. Working in government isn't merely about "problem-solving"; it's mostly about trying to fashion and implement policy.

    Surely, Obama can come up with plenty of better-qualified candidates for Commerce or, for that matter, any other position. I think most of us would be happy to see Romney disappear from public life.

  • June on November 11, 2012 8:06 AM:

    If Rudalevige's piece isn't actually a work of subtle satire, then I just have to ask, has Rudalevige just emerged from a year of Rip Van Winkle-deep sleep?

    Heck, (Romney) could head the Office of Management and Budget – Ike’s budget director, Joe Dodge, was a prominent businessman.

    Romney who never managed to give a straight answer on how many jobs he supposedly created at Bain Capital, Romney whose 'economic plan' consisted of downloaded tidbits from the internet -- combined with swiping portions of the President's economic plan to present as his own (take a good listen at his bullet points for his so-called '5-point-plan;) -- Romney, whose campaign couldn't provide a single model to journalists to back up their election projection numbers, etc., etc.

    But let's say Romney was actually a genuine numbers-cruncher -- his utter lack of integrity and spectacularly bad judgement disqualifies him for a Cabinet position. What about his tax returns? What about his suppposed investments in companies that do business with Iran? What about his being set to make millions from Sensata relocating their company to China?

    What should Romney's next move be? He should work as a consultant to his son Tagg's company - you know the one he gave $10M in start-up capital to -- and whose partners are former associates of convicted Ponzi-schemer Allen Stanford? The list of disqualifications for any role in government just goes on and on with Romney. To borrow his oft-used phrase, for anyone with "clear eyes" and not rose-colored glasses, that's mighty easy to see.

  • Tom Marney on November 11, 2012 8:24 AM:

    Maybe he could be naval shipbuilding czar, LOL.

  • howard hill on November 11, 2012 1:05 PM:

    On the day before the election, I put up a piece comparing Romney's management success with Obama's. The difference is stark, and Romney comes out very poorly in the comparison. Tomorrow you'll see another piece on national memo looking at Romney's vaunted "ORCA" voter tracking and contact system. It was a glaring example of mismanagement.

    Here's the piece posted just before Election Day:

  • Raenelle on November 11, 2012 8:13 PM:

    Somebody needs to read some Marx. Or watch "Moon." Something, besides listen to the pundits about what a treasure Mitt Romney is. Jesus. I've never read anything so stupid on a progressive site.

  • DJ on November 12, 2012 12:37 AM:

    What a foolish article. This is not an episode of The West Wing and even if it was, Mitt Romney is nowhere close to Arnold Vinick.

  • Rand Careaga on November 15, 2012 12:55 PM:

    If Mitt wants to model his career after Wendell Willkie going forward, then dropping dead shortly before the next presidential election might be the way to go.

  • RC on December 11, 2012 4:19 PM:

    In what world did Romney display managerial competence? His campaign was an utter fiasco. His "salvation" of the Olympics keyed upon throwing federal money at it. His time at Bain was an exercise in pillage and plunder.