Mitt Romney, Republican Frontrunner, Cipher
Mitt Romney starts his 2012 run as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. But, in reinventing himself yet again, the "authenticity" issue that troubled many of us in 2008 looms again.
Mitt Romney starts his 2012 run as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. But, in reinventing himself yet again, the “authenticity” issue that troubled many of us in 2008 looms again.
Paul West for LAT (“A whole new Romney for 2012 presidential run“):
Defying his reputation as a 1950s square, the new, more casual Mitt Romney is popping up around the country as he readies a second run for president. He’s going tieless on network TV, strolling NASCAR pits in Daytona and sporting skinny Gap jeans bought for him by his wife.
His latest campaign book, just out in paperback, opens with a regular-guy scene: wealthy Mitt in a Wal-Mart checkout line, buying gifts for his grandsons and comparing the surroundings to Target, another discount store he says he’s familiar with.
The image tweaks are part of a broader makeover as Romney prepares to run from what should be an enviable spot: He’s the early Republican favorite — though far from an inevitable nominee.
The former Massachusetts governor will start out with valuable presidential campaign experience from his 2008 try, and a deeper financial network than his Republican rivals. The national economic debate plays to his background as an investment executive and “gives him a big advantage,” said Carl Forti, a former top advisor.
Yet for every edge, there are drawbacks. Taken together, they make Romney an unusually weak front-runner.
One of his biggest problems is “a suspicion that he is not as authentic as voters would like and he doesn’t connect as well with voters as they would like,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster not aligned with any candidate. “Politicians who are viewed as authentic have a much easier time connecting with the voters they are wooing. People like Ronald Reagan and [New Jersey Gov.] Chris Christie seem to have no trouble connecting, in part because they seem so comfortable in their skin.”
The problem has been fed by the fact that, in each of his runs for public office, Romney has remade himself. Last time out, he shed his moderate social views on abortion and gay rights, then struggled to convince primary voters of his conservative bona fides. A perception grew that the handsome candidate, with his almost-too-perfect hair and teeth and seemingly scripted answers to every question, would say anything to get elected.
I’m reminded very much of Al Gore, an obviously bright and competent fellow who was the son of a prominent politician and groomed for the presidency since infancy. Despite their talents and enormous success, neither man seemed comfortable in their skin. Barack Obama, by contrast, sometimes comes across as odd but he doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about it or pretending that he’s “just folks.”
Aside from the NASCAR appearances, one of the amusing aspects of Romney’s latest makeover is running against Obamacare while defending a remarkably similar program he implemented as governor. James Hohmann for Politico (“Mitt Romney’s prescription for ‘Obamacare’: Repeal it“):
Mitt Romney repeatedly called for the repeal of “Obamacare” in a Saturday night speech to New Hampshire Republicans, even as the former Massachusetts governor admitted his own state’s health care program “wasn’t perfect.” “Some things worked, some things didn’t, and some things I’d change,” he said of the Massachusetts plan he authored, without offering specifics.
In his first public appearance in the first-in-the-nation primary state since last October, the all-but-declared presidential candidate said that nothing the president has done during his first two years in office was “more misguided and egregious … than Obamacare.”
“Obamacare is bad law constitutionally, bad policy, and it is bad for America’s families,” Romney said. “The federal government isn’t the answer for running health care any more than it’s the answer for running Amtrak or the Post Office.”
Even though an individual mandate requiring coverage is the hallmark of both the Massachusetts law and the president’s plan — what critics respectively have dubbed “Romneycare” and “Obamacare” — Romney sought to draw a distinction between the two. “Our approach was a state plan intended to address problems that were in many ways unique to Massachusetts,” he said. “What we did there as Republicans and Democrats was what the Constitution intended for states to do — we were one of the laboratories of democracy.” “One thing I would never do is to usurp the constitutional power of states with a one-size-fits-all federal takeover,” he added.
In his remarks, Romney three times called for “Obamacare” to be rolled back, saying at one point, “I would repeal Obamacare, if I were ever in a position to do so.”
I fully agree with Daniel Larison that all of this is not only absurd but counterproductive:
Romney would do so much better if he weren’t constantly changing to try to please people. As egregious as his numerous position switches have been, and as embarrassing as his pandering to foreign policy hawks over the last two years has been, Romney’s pandering was mostly limited to questions of policy and rhetorical style. He has a public image as a somewhat stiff, technocratic businessman, and that is the most genuine thing about him for the last five years.
If there is anything that would be more insufferable and hard to believe than Romney the zealous social conservative or Romney the foe of excessive government, it would have to be Romney the “regular guy.” One of the few things Romney has going for him is that he is not a “regular guy.” As ignorant or ideological as some of his positions can be, no one can deny that he is a very intelligent person. Romney and Bush are both MBAs from Harvard, but the difference is that Romney actually seems to have learned something while he was there. He has had a privileged life, he has been reasonably successful in the corporate world, and he is personally very wealthy. There is virtually nothing “regular” about him, and it is silly for him to pretend that there is. Refashioning Romney’s public image is just as likely to invite unwelcome comparisons with Al Gore as it will make voters react more favorably to him.
Candidates are almost always better off running on their own strengths rather than trying to pretend to be something they’re not. The latter not only comes across as inauthentic but it’s exhausting and self-defeating.
Regardless, I continue to believe the nomination is Romney’s to lose. He was the runner-up last time and is a polished campaigner, well financed, and well organized. He’s lining up key endorsements in New Hampshire and has to be the odds-on favorite to win there.
The question, as West notes, is how different the current political environment really is from those of the recent past.
If 2012 were a typical nomination campaign, Romney’s status as the establishment favorite would play to his advantage in the nomination contest. But today’s GOP is consumed by anti-establishment fervor. Energy in the Republican primaries is likely to be pulsing from fired-up “tea party” backers, and Romney will face fierce competition for their support from more-conservative rivals.
The problem with that, however, is that it presumes that 2010 will be the model. And maybe it will. But it’s much easier for small, intense groups to dominate off-year primaries and quite another to be a dominant factor when the broader electorate is interested.
Republicans will have to nominate someone who can get the Tea Party faction behind them. But a Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann will, in my judgment, not pass muster with the primary voters over the long haul of a presidential campaign.
Ultimately, I’m not sure the Republicans have anyone who can beat Obama who, despite a horrendous economy and failing to live up to his own promises on the foreign policy front, remains popular. But, to have any chance at all, the GOP will have to run a candidate who could plausibly be president. And Romney is that, recently polling as the only “presidential” Republican in the field.