It’s one of many chances he’s had — but passed on — to brush back divisive racial rhetoric from his side of the aisle and demonstrate that he can call issues fairly and squarely. And if he never does, he’ll squander GOP hopes of making inroads with voters of color, whom Republicans, and Romney, need for re-election in 2016. But in the same way that Obama, as a black president, abstained from weighing in on race issues for a three-year period between the “beer summit” and the Trayvon Martin tragedy, Romney may have to do the opposite — honestly and openly confronting the trust gap between his party and minorities.
Discuss His Faith
And it sounds obvious, but while Romney has remained an active practitioner of his Mormon faith, he’s also studiously avoided discussing it as a candidate — which may have been a mistake — since his religion could provide a backdrop for explaining what he loves about America, what motivates him as a leader and how he sees himself as part of a thriving, but frequently misunderstood, minority group in our society.
Play It Fair
But most importantly, if Romney tackles the looming issues of government spending and debt, he has to spread the pain around evenly.
If he repeals Obamacare and cuts other social spending but at the same time proceeds with overfunding the Defense Department, fails to make corresponding budget cuts for ethanol subsidies and leaves in place tax policies that favor wealthier Americans over middle- and working-class Americans — government goodies that fewer minorities will benefit from — he’ll reinforce the belief that he favors the interests of some Americans over others.
If, instead Romney offers an honest test of the conservative thesis that a smaller government ideology and approach benefits everyone, then whether or not he succeeds at reducing the national debt, he’ll have stood up for the principle that Americans are all in this together.
Obama is the first black president, but a President Romney would be another kind of first — the first white president to come after the first black president. Everything he’d do would be judged by whether or not he met President Obama’s standard. And if Romney wins, he’ll have a chance to show that he wants to be everyone’s president. We’ll soon know if he gets that chance.
Then we’ll find out what he does with it.
David Swerdlick is a contributing editor to The Root and blogs for the New York Daily News’ “The Rumble.“ Follow him on Twitter.