Picture it: Mitt Romney's Boston campaign headquarters, in a post-Super Tuesday strategy session. Everyone's high on Tuesday's six-state sweep. They're sitting around a conference table, trading ideas on how to add a dash of pepper-jack ranch dressing to a campaign that's as blandly risk averse as an iceberg wedge salad.
Primary goals: Knock off Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — and, ultimately, Barack Obama. Suddenly the Romney-campaign brain trust's lone black strategist — it's possible there is one — offers this:
"Why not move to Detroit — just for a week?"
The strategist [let's call him Jim] continues: Hear me out, guys. Mr. Romney, after all, was born in Detroit. His dad ran a major auto company and was a Michigan governor. So he gets the whole Michigan, Detroit, auto, manufacturing, postindustrial thing — never mind the op-ed pieces warning that the government's bailout of General Motors and Chrysler would "seal their fate."
Nevertheless, Jim continues: Think about this like consultants. First, let's identify the problem: Our candidate has an alternative-reality problem. There's a very real perception in America that, well, Mr. Romney is out of touch with regular folks.
Senior strategist: Really?
Jim: Yeah. At a New Hampshire campaign breakfast in January, Mr. Romney told the audience: "I like being able to fire people" who provide shoddy service. It's hard to quibble with the sentiment, but coming from Mr. Romney, it just sounded cold. Last month, in Daytona Beach, Fla., when Mr. Romney was asked if he followed racing, he actually said: "Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans, but I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners."
Then he told a group of NASCAR fans standing in the rain in what appeared to be plastic ponchos: "I like those fancy raincoats you bought — really spring for the big bucks." Guys, Mr. Romney sounds like a Burberry-Brooks Brothers-Starbucks guy at a moment the country's mood is more Wal-Mart-Payless-McDonald's.
Senior strategist: Well, Mitt does like Brooks Brothers' slim-fit shirts. Ann loves Burberry. And Mormons, for the record, don't drink coffee.
Jim: Exactly. We've been sending out Mrs. Romney to humanize Mr. Romney, and her interview Monday with Fox's Neil Cavuto was generally fine. She looked fantastic in the gray suit and talked movingly about the rigors of presidential campaign travel and the challenge battling multiple sclerosis.
But then she said, "I don't even consider myself wealthy … It can be here today and gone tomorrow." Guys, by anybody's measure, in any country, a family with an estimated net worth of $250 million is very, very wealthy. Stack her up against Michelle O.
Silence. It's hard to believe the black guy actually spoke.
Finally, from the senior strategist: Jim, what's your Detroit argument?
Jim: Let's move the whole campaign to Detroit, just for a week. The average house costs, what, $7,500?
Senior strategist: Ha! It'd be good to get off the East Coast, into The Other America. Too expensive.
A junior strategist speaks up: Can we buy a whole block?
Jim: Oh, yeah. The folks in Michigan would love it.
Senior strategist: We can have dinner parties and invite a couple of unemployed autoworkers, engineers. Maybe Kid Rock, too. Eminem could play "Lose Yourself," because we all need to lose ourselves a bit. Ditch the suits.
Jim: Um, it's Detroit. So we need some Motown flavor — maybe Kem?
Senior strategist: Who?
Jim: Look him up. Anyways, don't let the city's spinmeisters point us only to the gleaming downtown football stadium and restaurants, and hipster-heaven bars that get all the media buzz. Detroit's very cool, and we'll have a great time. But let's keep that on the DL.
Senior strategist: Right. We just need to show America we're connecting with regular folks, that we can slug it out in the neighborhoods. How's security there? And what about Ann?
Jim: It's not exactly fly-over country, like Kansas. It's a big city, with some beautiful neighborhoods. Mrs. Romney will be fine. There's a Whole Foods and Neiman Marcus in the suburbs. And there's a terrific golf course right in Detroit.
Junior strategist: In fact, there's so much land — about 140 square miles, enough to put Manhattan, Boston and San Francisco inside, with room to spare — we can build one of America's largest golf courses! Michigan's weather sucks in winter. But who cares? There's plenty of cheap labor. We could knock it out quickly.
Ears perk up.
Jim continues: Moving to Detroit serves multiple purposes. It's Michigan's largest media market, so we'd get tons of positive press. Mr. Romney could sort of atone for his auto-bailout views. Maybe offer some fresh ideas on how to reboot U.S. manufacturing — and cities. It'd be a terrific tribute to his hometown — potentially one of the boldest experiments in American political history.
Junior strategist: Oh, and think of the optics: Detroit's the most populous majority-black city. Living there, just for a week, would puncture the popular perception that our campaign's monochromatic, as Austan Goolsbee had the nerve to observe in a Tweet Tuesday night. I mean, we've got you, Jim.
We can offer big ideas about education reform, have a party and invite some Detroit schoolkids to sing "Who Let the Dogs Out 2.0." Maybe have Herman Cain over to do a couple of songs, even tap-dance. Then we take some of the Caddies back to Boston. Everything will be normal. We'd win!
Senior strategist: We do need Michigan in November. It'd be a teachable moment for all of us. Signal to other CEOs that Detroit is back in business. Why don't you go there, Jim? Find us a place. Let's rebuild a great American city!
Jim: You bet.
Junior strategist: So, what do we call this?
Senior strategist: Project Detroit.
Junior strategist: Cool. This opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo.
Senior strategist: Yo?
Jim: Oh, brother.