Romney's Problem: His Brand Story Is Too Complicated For Voters

David Kiley

It's hard to believe that the 2008 Presidential campaign is this hot this early. But here we are. One of the most interesting parts of the process is watching people with complicated brand stories try to get their stories on track.

This takes me to GOP candidate Mitt Romney. It is clear that the conservative wing of the GOP is trying to make Romney their choice. He has Reaganesque looks. He, for now, is pro-gun, anti-abortion and anti gay marriage. Most of the discussion around Romney has centered on the fact that he is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He is a mormon. The big question: Will 51% of Americans vote a mormon into the White House?

Here is Romney's real problem. He is waaaaaaaaaaaay too complicated for American voters. Conservative voters are trying to spin his late-found positions on abortion (he used to be pro-choice) gay marriage (he used to be for civil unions) and guns (he used to be pro gun laws but last year joined the NRA) as the equivalent of conversion. In other words, he isn't a flip-flopper to conservatives, he's been saved.

As a mormon, Romney has been trying to simplify the story by saying he is simply a person of faith, and that's what most people want in a President.

Though today's Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints doesn't advocate in any way the polygamy that characterized the early church, and which is still practiced by a small splinter sect of the church, the impression most have of Mormonism is that most mormon men have wives hidden away somewhere. The success of the HBO series Big Love, which chronicles a polygamist Mormon family won't help Romney straighten the picture.

If Romney was simply a flip flopper on the most volatile social issues of the day, he would have a tough slog as the video clips of his previous positions--180-degrees away from his positions today--are already on His joining the NRA just last year is right up there with Newt Gingrich's confession of an extra-marital affair while he was leading the impeachment charge against Bill Clinton. It's last minute throwing the dirty magazines under the couch cushions before Mom's prayer group comes through the door.

But you take all that transparent position switching (his old positions were fine for running for Massachusettes Governor but not for President)and add the complexity of Mormonism on top of that!!That's a tall order to expect the electorate to take all that in. It's a bit like McDonald's trying to stand for childhood nutrition and fitness, or GM trying to advertise that it haas the most fuel efficient gas guzzlers on the market.

Remember George W. Bush famously saying that he "didn't do nuance." Voters don't like too much complexity in a candidate. They don't want to have to figure out too much. They want it plain. They want the President's story simple enough to read on the side of a soda can. Romney's got a problem.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.