Romney Speaks to the NAACP Wednesday. Everyone understands, and Governor Mitt Romney knows, he will be facing a tough audience tomorrow when he addresses the NAACP’s 103rd Convention in Houston. After Romney addressed an audience of Latino elected officials on June 21, we know what to expect: An unenthusiastic welcome featuring forced polite applause and long quiet intervals between that applause. But the soon-to-be-officially-crowned Republican nominee could perhaps do better. Romney may want to take some hints from a speech delivered by Sen. John McCain in 2008. He would also do well to evoke his parents who were participants in the Civil Rights movement. Will he flop or will the speech be an ironic opportunity to score at an event the President is not attending?
10 Things Mitt Romney SHOULD Say to the NAACP
1. Romney should do what John McCain did in 2008 in an impressive speech to the NAACP in 2008. McCain made the point that then-Sen. Obama made history and commended his opponent. He then carried that point into an example of how far the country had come on the issue of race. “No matter what the outcome in November,” said McCain to the NAACP in 2008, “Sen. Obama has acheived a great thing and I thank him for it.”
2. If Romney can’t say anything nice about President Obama, he should simply evoke the Civil Rights movement and how far we’re come but that, “we still have work to do together.”
3. Romney should talk about equal opportunity and breaking the cycle of poverty through education. Anyone Democrat of Republcan can agree on that one. If Romney is going to mention vouchers fine, but couch it in the context of “we must adopt new policies on failing schools” and get out.
4. Romney may want to say he’s confident he can do better for African Americans regarding unemployment. Even in the worst final months of the Bush Administration, when the nation was losing 800,000 jobs per month, the Black unemployment rate was “only” at 11.4% and 12.1%. During President Obama’s four years the Black unemployment rate hit a 28 year high of 16.7% last September. Romney may want to gently remind the audience of those numbers.
5. Romney should tell the NAACP what he told Tim Russert on Meet the Press in 2007. Romney said he pulled the car to the side of the road in 1978 and wept when he heard the Mormon church put an end to the ban on Black priests. “I was anxious to see a change in my church… I could not have been more pleased to see the change that occured,” Romney told Russert. It’s not an easy story to segue into, but addressing concerns regarding racism and the Mormon church could go a long way.
6. He should attack Congress and say he’ll work closely with them to break gridlock if he becomes President. Any crowd will agree with an attack on Congress.
7. He can’t ride dad’s coattails for the entire speech but Romney should bring up his dad’s activity in the Civil Rights movement as much as he can. Romney should mention that his father, George Romney, walked out of the 1964 GOP convention in part because he believed Goldwater would be weak on civil rights and support the policies of White segregationists.
8. Quote Martin Luther King, Jr. a lot. This is obvious and maybe Romney could even tell a joke about the dustup in 2008 when he falsely claimed his father “marched with King.” It wasn’t accurate but that his statement could even be “close” is better than what any other recent Republican Presidential candidate could say (as well as some recent Democratic ones…).
9. Talk about the $15 trillion debt and how everyone will have to pay sooner or later. Some issues are not ideological and the debt is one of them.
10. Back to John McCain. At the end of his speech to the the NAACP, McCain said, “I seek your vote but whether I get it or not I will I still need your goodwill and council if I become President…” Everyone understands President Obama will enjoy the overwhelming support of the African American community. Acknowledge the obvious but ask for good vibes anyway.
10 Things Mitt Romney SHOULD NOT Say to the NAACP
1. Romney should avoid attacking the President. Everyone knows who he’s running against. If he does attack, he should at least attach humor to the attack. Something like: “The success of President Obama shows our progress as a nation but I’d be lying if I said I wanted that success to last past November.”
2. Avoid the middle class tax cut argument. Bring it up for what? This stuff goes over well at a GOP retreat… What’s the point of convincing people in a largely Democratic audience that a tax break for high wealth earners is a good idea?
3. Romney should avoid bringing up criminal justice police outside the context of the big picture. If he wants to mention the topic at all, which he rarely has on the trail, it should include a mention of failed policy (see: war on drugs) and over incarceration.
4. The theme of the NAACP is voting rights. Romney should avoid this subject given that Republican governors and legislators across the nation have made it harder to vote rather than easier. Romney hasn’t spoke on the subject before so why do it now unless he plans to make news and say the laws are unnecessary.
5. Avoid mentioning how great an idea it is to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If Romney wants to bring up how great an idea it is to repeal Obamacare he should at least have an answer as to what he’d replace it with. The Affordable Care Act is set to help the Black community in many ways, including funding for community health care centers. Romney’s other dilemma in bring up health care is obvious: Obamacare is Romneycare. A politically saavy audience like the NAACP knows this.
6. Romney should avoid what President Bush did at the NAACP in 2006. President Bush had a cold relationship with the NAACP and failed to show at the first five conventions during his time in office from 2001 to 2005. Romney should at least attempt to give off the feeling he’s interested in having a lasting relationship with the NAACP if he becomes Presisdent.
7. Don’t drone. When Bush finally appeared at the NAACP in 2006 he read the teleprompter and spoke as if he was a machine. Everyone knows Romney is not the most animated candidate ever but he should try to avoid droning on at include some breaks in the speech that feature easy applause lines (see #8 up top).
8. At the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference, Romney went into details about what he didn’t like about the President’s immigration policy and the room went silent. Romney should avoid any detailed exploration into policy the NAACP would be in strong disagreement with. Does anyone go to the NRA covention and break into a lecture about gun control? Romney is good at avoiding specifics so keeping things general should be easy. Getting into detail will just make the cheers for Vice President all the more loud on Thursday.
9. Toure is right, never say the words “you people.”
10. Romney should avoid taking questions. McCain did this just fine in 2008 — but that’s McCain. For Romney, who offers few policy details on key issues, an exploration of his views on Stop and Frisk and what he’d do about the shootings in Chicago could yield interesting results. Generalities on these questions for a controlled candidate who doesn’t do well unscripted would do more harm than good.
LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE, Politic365 Managing Editor, publishes the blog Crewof42 on the Congressional Black Caucus. She can be heard every Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET on WMCS 1290 in Milwaukee on Earl Ingram’s show The Evening Rush as well as on WPFW 89.3 every Friday at 6:30 p.m. Ms. Burke is a former employee of USAToday.com and ABC News. You can e-mail her at LBurke007@gmail.com follow her on twitter @Crewof42.