Everybody Hates Mitt
While the Republican field is doing a reasonably good job of adhering to Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, they’re all willing to make an exception for Mitt Romney, Michael Luo reports for the NYT.
With so much attention recently on the sniping between Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama on the Democratic side, the almost visceral scorn directed at Mr. Romney by his rivals has been overshadowed.
“Never get into a wrestling match with a pig,” Senator John McCain said in New Hampshire this month after reporters asked him about Mr. Romney. “You both get dirty, and the pig likes it.”
Mike Huckabee’s pugilistic campaign chairman, Ed Rollins, appeared to stop just short of threatening Mr. Romney with physical violence at one point. “What I have to do is make sure that my anger with a guy like Romney, whose teeth I want to knock out, doesn’t get in the way of my thought process,” Mr. Rollins said.
Campaign insiders and outside strategists point to several factors driving the ill will, most notably, Mr. Romney’s attacks on opponents in television commercials, the perception of him as an ideological panderer and resentment about his seemingly unlimited resources as others have struggled to raise cash.
Mr. Romney’s campaign contends that the hostility is driven by the fact that he has aggressively sought to win the early primaries, setting himself up as the chief antagonist, first, to Mr. Huckabee in Iowa and then to Mr. McCain in New Hampshire. Mr. Romney continues to be a mountain in the paths of both men, as well as Rudolph W. Giuliani, to the nomination. A spokesman for the Romney campaign, Kevin Madden, said, “I think it’s largely driven by the fact that everybody’s taught to tackle the guy on the field with the ball.”
But the New Hampshire debate was striking in that it amounted to a gang tackle of Mr. Romney, even though Mr. McCain was leading in polls in the state.
In stark contrast to Mr. Romney, Mr. McCain seems to be universally liked and respected by the other Republican contenders, even if they disagree with him.
Mr. Schnur used a schoolyard analogy to compare Mr. Romney, the ever-proper Harvard Law School and Business School graduate, to Mr. McCain, the gregarious rebel who racked up demerits and friends at the Naval Academy. “John McCain and his friends used to beat up Mitt Romney at recess,” Mr. Schnur said.
There’s plenty of speculation in the blogosphere about the reasons for this Romneymosity.
Amy Goldstein thinks it’s sheer jealously over Romney’s once-in-a-generation brainpower, matinée idol good looks, awe inspiring résumé, hot wife, and strapping young sons. Dafydd agrees that “It’s entirely possible that McCain, Mike Huckabee, and the ever-pugnacious Rudy Giuliani are befuddled and infuriated that one of those kids made it big in the financial world, becoming far more successful than the three of them combined — bank accounts, pocket-change, Sunday clothing, blood chemicals, and all.”
While Romney’s raising himself by his bootstraps from his humble beginnings as the son of a former CEO of General Motors and two time governor of Michigan is a veritable Horatio Alger story, Tom Maguire isn’t quite buying that explanation. Instead, he sees Romney’s “willingness to adopt a new position at the drop of a poll and his relentlessly negative campaigning against his opponents” as more plausible explanations.
Greg Ransom sees great irony in McCain’s resentment of Romney’s financial advantage, considering that “he’s helped develop a system where it’s incredibly difficult to run a competitive campaign for President without great personal wealth.” He’s got a point.
Still, I figure Ramesh Ponnuru is on the right track when he says maybe they “resent it when he attacks them for being to the left of positions he has very recently adopted.”
As I’ve noted many times, politics is much less rational than analysts make it out to be. While positions on the issues matter, people are ultimately drawn to — or repelled by — candidates for visceral reasons. Despite near identical positions on the issues, conservatives were drawn to Fred Thompson but would rather see Hillary Clinton get elected than vote for John McCain. Similarly, while Clinton is far closer to me on the issues than is Barack Obama, I’d much rather have him as president.
That Romney’s able to self-finance his campaign and win several states essentially by default while others are having to pick and choose is grating, I’m sure. And there’s also a sense that it’s “not his turn,” although one could certainly say the same about Huckabee. Mostly, though, I think Romney simply rubs a lot of people the wrong way.
As Luo explains later in the piece, most of these guys know each other pretty well. Despite the “insider” and “outsider” rhetoric, the ranks of governors and Senators and big city mayors is an elite club. The disparities between Mitt 2002 and Mitt 2008 are much more obvious to his debating partners than the general public — most of whom never met the first guy — and they likely think he’s a big phony.
Photo credit: The Washington Note
UPDATE: Steve Benen agrees, likening Romney to Eddie Haskell. Heh.