Thirty-nine days before the Presidential election, Mitt Romney doesn’t appear to be the formidable challenge to President Obama that many expected. Indeed, Romney’s ineptness has turned the tide in Obama’s favor. What happened?
A year ago, when the slate of Republican presidential candidates formed, it was Mitt Romney versus the “seven dwarfs:” Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, Paul, Pawlenty, Perry, and Santorum. Many observers believed Romney would roll over his opponents and quickly garner the Republican nomination. Instead, Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucuses and Newt Gingrich won in South Carolina. For an instant it appeared Mitt might not be the nominee; then he turned on his money machine and swamped the others. At the end of April the Republican National Committee declared Romney the presumptive nominee.
Romney is a reengineered George W. Bush. Both men are the sons of successful Republican politicians; George Romney was Governor of Michigan; George H.W. Bush was President of the United States. Both were educated at elite schools and attended Harvard Business School. Both had a stint as entrepreneurs; Mitt being much more successful than Dubya. Both were governors; Dubya of Texas and Mitt of Massachusetts. And both fit the modern Republican profile of a successful candidate: millionaires with business experience and overt religiosity.
Initially Romney’s campaign leveraged American dissatisfaction with the tepid economy by using the slogan, “Obama isn’t working.” Several polls showed Mitt leading the President. Then the wheels began to come off the Romney express.
There are three explanations for the implosion. The first is that the Obama campaign was able to define the Republican candidate before Mitt could introduce himself to voters. Before the conventions, Democrats began running The Man from Bain commercials that explained how Mitt Romney actually made his fortune as a “vulture capitalist.” This heighted the perception that Romney’s business experience was not the sort needed to help out the middle class; the message was, “Mitt is a job destroyer not a job creator.”
The Obama strategy caused the Romney campaign to go on the defensive. Mitt fought one media fire after another: the correct date for his departure from Bain Capital, his role there, his tax returns, and on and on. Then Romney selected Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate. This move could have boosted the campaign but didn’t because Mitt was so vague on policy specifics, voters assumed the notorious Ryan Budget represented Romney’s thinking.
Next came a string of epic gaffes. Romney went on a European tour and insulted the British security at the 2012 Olympics. On the home front, he claimed, “corporations are people,” and noted, “I like to be able to fire people who provide services to me.” On September 18th, MOTHER JONES magazine published a < href= http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/09/watch-full-secret-video-private-romney-fundraiser >tape of a private Romney fundraiser where Mitt observed, “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what… who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them… my job is not to worry about those people.”
Some believe Romney’s implosion reveals psychological problems. On the PBS News Hour New York Times columnist David Brooks observed, “And with Mitt Romney, he's faking it. I think he's a non-ideological guy running in an ideological age who is pretending to be way more ideological than he really is. And so he talks like he has this cartoon image of how [he’s] supposed to be talking. And, as a result, it is stupid a lot.” Political columnist Robert Kahn agreed, “…Mitt Romney's campaign has been so inept… Because the guy is acting, in the old style… He's trying so hard… to appeal to the increasingly repressive right wing, and their irrational arguments - that he can't do simple things, such as think.” Mitt comes across as inauthentic because he’s lost touch with his moral center.
Writing in the NEW YORKER, journalism professor Nicholas Lemann noted a Romney character flaw: “[Mitt] combines an utter confidence in his ability to fix any problem with an utter lack of confidence that he can explain to people what he intends to do.”
But there’s a fourth reason, Mitt’s egotism. A key difference between the first George W. Bush presidential campaign and the current Romney campaign is that Karl Rove managed Dubya, but no one manages Mitt. According to the New York Times Romney chose to have Clint Eastwood give his incoherent endorsement speech at the Republican National Convention. And, after the deaths of the US ambassador to Libya and three American staffers, Mitt decided to respond, “It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”
Karl Rove managed Dubya’s decisions and public statements. Mitt doesn’t believe he needs that level of supervision. The parade of errors over the last five months shows that he was wrong. Romney’s hubris has subverted his campaign. Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org