When Mitt Romney walks into the debate hall Wednesday night for the most crucial performance of his accomplished life, he does not need to have mastered the dark arts of slick body language with which D.C. spinmeisters are so obsessed. Nor does he have to try coming off as likable or pretend he is the guy onstage with whom you would prefer to have a beer.
What Mr. Romney must do is come off as serious, even if it perpetuates his image as wooden and boring. He must be awkwardly genuine, even if that means his dorky Mr. Fix-It inner self shines through, eliminating any hope of a beer date anywhere in America.
He can do all of this by making a single, stunning announcement the moment he is given the floor and asked to introduce himself.
Mitt Romney should announce that he wants to be president to set America on a dramatically new course so his grandchildren will grow up in the same vibrant, free and optimistic America he was blessed to grow up in.
And he will do that in just four years. He should make a vow at that moment that this is his one and final campaign for the presidency. He will not run for a second term.
Such a promise would instantly change the tone of the campaign pitting a serious turnaround business expert against a big-talking slickster street performer whose record as president is abysmal. It would be such a blockbuster, even the thoroughly corrupted political media could not ignore it.
Mr. Romney could make the argument that with only one term, he would make all the tough decisions about Medicare, Social Security and runaway federal spending that career politicians in Washington are simply too wimpy and unprincipled to make. It would be a doubling down on his decision to pick Paul Ryan as his vice president.
The whole rest of the debate would be Mr. Romney making the argument for drastic action (not difficult given the massive unemployment and staggering debt). President Obama would be left standing behind his lectern playing small ball and sounding like a politician desperately trying to hold onto his job.
Whatever independents there really are out there who are undecided would find this enormously appealing. They could go on liking Obama and make their decision — not one between two politicians, but rather between a politician they still like and an honest, decent government technician who will do to the U.S. government what he did to the Staples office supply chain.
Down ticket, it would be a boon to Republicans who could suddenly tell their tea party supporters and basic conservatives that this is really it. It is finally “go time.”
“Elect me, and within four years we really will finally cage this out-of-control, reckless federal government.”
Such a move would also reassure those of the Republican base who still fret about Mr. Romney’s hard-core commitment to big conservative principles. They can happily vote for Mr. Romney to right the ship now and then vote with their hearts in just four years — perhaps even for Mr. Ryan.
For Mr. Romney, such a decision would be a huge, clarifying win. It helps in the current contest, of course. But it will also help him govern and do big things.
It will give him the credibility to bully Congress into moving fast in four years. It sets stark deadlines.
In the end, he could wind up with a legacy of four great years instead of four good years that ended — as they always do — in four years of disappointment. Or, as in Mr. Obama’s case, just four really bad years.
• Charles Hurt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.