Will Mitt be Jack or Arnie?
Now that Romney has clinched the GOP nomination and everyone can drop the annoying adjective "presumptive," which the MSM has used derisively, Team Romney is sure to get lots and lots of solicited and unsolicited advice on how to manage the campaign ahead. I'll leave issues of substance to others and focus here on style. Should Romney run the way Jack Nicklaus played golf or the way Arnold Palmer did?
It is widely acknowledged that Palmer made golf in America. He is often referred to as "The King," just as Elvis was. Arnie's beginnings were also humble. His father was head professional and greenskeeper at Latrobe Country Club in Pennsylvania, where Palmer grew up playing golf; he would go on to purchase the club in 1971. A dutiful son, Palmer made sure everyone remembered his father and especially the trees he had planted at Latrobe: when a pine between the first and eighteenth hole died and was in the process of being cut down, Palmer arranged to have it converted into a giant carving of his father.
What made Palmer so popular -- enough so to have his own "army" walking with him at every tournament -- was his aggressive style of play. This was just the sort of drama television sports broadcasting was looking for, and already getting from sports with a much wider following in America. Let's face it: golf can seem pretty boring, and maybe not even a sport that a real athlete might take up. Palmer changed that. He threw caution to the winds, going for broke on every shot, slugging it out with the elements hole after hole, flailing away at the ball with abandon, trying to beat the course and his opponents into the ground. Unlike stoical predecessors such as Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, who seemed impervious to surroundings as well as the crowd, Palmer wore his emotions on his sleeve. Fans and TV audiences loved it.
Jack Nicklaus, ten years younger than Palmer, grew up in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, son of a well-to-do pharmacist who was an excellent athlete in his own right. Nicklaus learned to play golf at Scioto Country Club, where his father was a member. Nicklaus broke 70, the dream of many a golfer -- including me -- at the tender age of 13. He would go on to a stellar career that included amateur as well as professional titles. Nicklaus won the U.S. Amateur twice and all four professional majors -- the U.S. and British Opens, the Masters, and the PGA -- at least three times. His 18 PGA Tour majors is a record that will be hard to beat. Amazingly, Nicklaus also holds the record for most runner-up finishes in majors, with 19.
Nicklaus' style of play is almost the exact opposite of Palmer's and comes much closer to that of Ben Hogan. Nicklaus prepares meticulously before tournaments, carrying a yardage book with copious notes on every aspect of the course, including slopes on fairways and greens. He has a master plan worked out before stepping on the first tee and sticks to it. Nicklaus plays percentage golf, staying out of trouble and taking no unnecessary risks. He will absolutely do nothing to beat himself through careless or ill-considered decisions. You will never see Nicklaus backstab a one-foot putt. Watching Jack isn't as much fun as watching Arnie, though he could also hit the ball a long way. His swing is one of the simplest in golf, yielding soaring trajectories that would land the ball softly on hard, fast greens. And Nicklaus was probably the greatest putter ever under pressure.
What would a Palmer-style campaign look like against President Obama? The answer is to imagine how Newt Gingrich would have run had he been the GOP nominee instead of Romney. The key concept is relentless attack, leaving no stone unturned.
- Characterize Obama's economic policy as European-style socialism; use blunt language, not some euphemism that lets Obama get away from the facts.
- Refer time and again to the huge, unprecedented debt Obama and the Democrats have run in a short time, and the drag it has had on our economy.
- Document preferential treatment granted "green" companies run by Obama cronies and note what a complete waste of money such investments represent.
- Be clear about the utter hypocrisy of Obama's accepting donations from venture capitalists while criticizing Romney's role at Bain.
- Hammer away at failures in the Middle East, including "leading from behind" in Libya, anti-Israel policies, and sitting out the "green revolution" in Iran.
- Detail the large number of statements Obama has made that can be characterized as lies or deliberate falsehoods, and call them that.
- Note the countless instances of pro-Obama favoritism in the MSM press, which has been in the tank for him during his entire term.
- Conduct a thorough vetting of Obama's background, including the fake birth certificate issue and his past unsavory associates, and publish the facts.
- Point out the many occurrences of corrupt behavior by Obama administration officials, including at DOJ and GSA.
- Assemble a time card showing the number of days Obama spent "on the job" as opposed to vacationing, fundraising or doing political junkets generally.
A Nicklaus-style campaign would pick targets carefully and studiously avoid those that might seem to distract from a core message, which right now for Romney is about job-creation. Because he has made economic policy his top priority, he would accept points 1 through 4, though his actual language has not been that blunt. He has mentioned 5. Calling Obama a liar and a truant and attacking the press seem out of character for Romney, though not for Gingrich. Romney has said he would stay away from 8. There's mileage to be had from the corruption gambit, and maybe it will be used in the weeks ahead.
The Nicklaus style of play has resulted in a much more successful record than the Palmer style, especially if we throw in Hogan and Nelson, whom Nicklaus sought to emulate. Today, most professional golfers prefer the Nicklaus approach to Palmer's go-for-broke attitude. On the other hand, it is Palmer's daring and ability to forge an emotional connection with fans that have made him an admired and loved figure.
In the voting booth, the heart matters as much as the head, if not more.