"Just his mind ... poured out on paper." William Somerset
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Mitt Romney Is Bad At Running For President
The warm-up act to the most important speech of your campaign was an 82 year old actor who talked to an empty chair, your press shop leaked a negative press release on 9/11 (but embargoed it until 12:01 on 9/12, only to unembargo it so it went out on 9/11), your craven attempt at politicizing the murder of a U.S. Ambassador was roundly panned, even by members of your own party, and a leaked video of a speech you gave at a fundraiser shows you think nearly half of the people you are running to serve are freeloading layabouts who suckle at the government teat and think they are entitled to basic services like health care.You are Mitt Romney and you are bad at running for President.
While the last two weeks have provided the chattering class with day after day of content to fill column space, cable TV segments, tweets and blogs, on a deeper level, all of the sturm und drag that Governor Romney has created simply exposed what anyone paying attention to politics realized a long time ago – Romney is simply not ready for prime time and the longer he is in the public eye, the more unlikeable and out of touch he is proven to be. I know, this seems ridiculous to say about someone who is only 1 of 2 people with a chance to be elected President of the United States seven weeks from now, but the same could have been said for George McGovern, Bob Dole or Barry Goldwater. In reality, Romney’s only chance of seeing the inside of the Oval Office will be a post-defeat invitation from the newly re-elected President to come and visit.
So what is it that makes Governor Romney such a clumsy campaigner who seems pre-programmed to validate every stereotype used of him as a soulless corporate raider andüber wealthy plutocrat with little care for “you people?” Facts are always a good place to start and the most glaring one for me is the Governor’s record as a candidate for public office. He was ground into powder in 1994, arguably the best year to run as a Republican in the entire 20th century, by a man who epitomized liberalism in a year when that word was radioactive. His Senate race against Ted Kennedy was also Romney’s best chance to frame who he was and yet, he failed. Miserably.
Eight years later, and with the enormous gust of wind that the 2002 Olympics provided to his credibility, he did defeat a weak Democrat to become Governor of Massachusetts, but even that victory was pyrrhic (about which, in a moment) and he did not run for re-election in 2006 (his approval rating as Governor bottomed out in the mid-30s). By 2008, he was a front-runner for the GOP nomination for President, only to be embarrassed by a candidate with a sliver of his fundraising (Mike Huckabee) and another who had been written off months earlier as an also-ran (John McCain). This year, against a field of challengers that included a pizza executive with no prior elective office experience and a former Senator who lost his last race by 18 points, Romney came within a state or two of losing the nomination to what most considered the weakest Republican field of their lifetimes. He was prone to making odd statements on the campaign trail like "corporations are people,” and weird one-offs in debates (offering to bet Governor Rick Perry $10,000). The GOP base searched in vain for an alternative to him (at one point, every single one of the other challengers to him led in national polling) and, had even one of them run what passed for a competent campaign, likely would have prevailed. In the end, the field’s incompetence weighed just as heavily in helping Romney secure the nomination as his own efforts.
The initial months of the general election did nothing to suggest Romney had learned much from these prior experiences.His transition from primary candidate to general election candidate was flaccid, the roll out of his running mate was sloppy and error prone and his “pretend POTUS” trip abroad was enshrined thusly by the British tabloids: “Mitt the Twit.” Owing to Romney’s spotty record as a candidate, it should be unsurprising that he stumbled out of the gate, but these errors have morphed into a full fledged implosion since the completion of each party’s nominating convention.
The fact that Romney is now in such trouble is unsurprising. The three-legged stool that any successful politician relies on is his personal biography, record as an elected official and, if applicable, record outside of government. On all three fronts, Romney’s inability to connect those dots into a compelling narrative is his greatest shortcoming, but the failure is entirely his own.As a candidate, Romney rarely if ever speaks about his Mormon faith and what personal shading was offered at the Republican Convention had far more to do with his father (a touching story about giving his wife a rose each day of their marriage) than anything about the Governor.
As for policy ideas, the Internet is ugly with video evidence of Romney’s prevarications. He has portrayed himself as everything from a “moderate” to “severely conservative,” a supporter of a woman’s right to choose to someone who supports a “personhood amendment,” for stimulus spending to speed economic recovery, but now against it, in favor of letting “Detroit Go Bankrupt” but now taking credit for the auto industry’s revival and on and on. Hours could be spent trolling YouTube watching Mitt’s flip flops over the years, and that his campaign didn’t account for this speaks either to its naivete or arrogance.Either way, those flip flops are haunting him because they reinforce the notion that Romney will say anything to get elected President.
In government, his one achievement was a health care law that he never talks about for fear of pissing off his conservative base, and at the vaguest whiff of supporting any elements of the federal model, the blowback from the right wing of his party has been so massive he immediately backtracked. Romney’s slavish devotion to capturing the affection of the right wing was evident throughout the primary season, but the extreme stances he took on issues like immigration and abortion are now biting him in the ass.Unlike the amateur hour level talent Romney ran against during the primaries, Obama’s team has skillfully and relentlessly skewered Romney not only as a venal corporate raider, but as someone who lacks a moral compass or interest in community, an enemy to women who value their reproductive rights and filled in the blanks in Romney’s vacuous policies to cement the public’s view that Romney will protect the rich at the cost of everyone else.
As for Romney’s private sector experience, he and his team should have seen the avalanche of opposition research done on Bain Capital coming a mile away, but Romney’s own fecklessness has been his undoing. His lawyerly hair-splitting on when he left Bain only added fuel to the fire when tax and other official filings contradicted him (he was left to distinguish between when he left “day-to-day control of Bain to when he “officially” retired) and the stories of those fired or laid off from companies Bain acquired while he was in charge harken back to Kennedy’s dissection of him in 1994. And because Romney refuses to release his income tax returns for any year before 2010, what little has been revealed about his wealth has only served to confirm his image as “Thurston Howell Romney” – a guy who somehow squeezed more than $100 million into his IRA and pays less than 14% in taxes even though he earns close to $20 million a year from his investments.
The fundraising video that was released by Mother Jones is just another (the final?) nail in his electoral coffin. On that tape, Romney writes off nearly half of our country as government dependents uninterested in doing for themselves. Naturally, fact checking quickly sussed out that many people who pay no income taxes are elderly, active duty military personnel and the working poor, and, on the other hand that many wealthy people use tax loopholes to pay low marginal rates, but the facts are less important than the affirmation this video (shot in the home of a hedge fund manager) provides that Romney cares little for all Americans, just those who can donate large sums of money to his campaign.
At the end of the day, Romney has shown himself to be ill-equipped for the rigors of Presidential politics.His entire biography speaks to a man who has never had to explain himself to others. He grew up the scion of an auto industry CEO, was educated at elite private schools and university, morphed into a business executive unaccustomed to having his word questioned, and engaged in a Nixonian level of secrecy as Massachusetts’ chief executive that suggests he does not like leaving a paper trail (his underlings purchased their government hard drives on their way out the door, depriving the public of critical information about his time in office).His refusal to share information about his personal finances, dismissiveness toward the media that cover him and people without money to bankroll him and opacity about his policy prescriptions speaks to an arrogant man’s belief that the only entitlement he supports is his own ascension to the Presidency.