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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Why Romney is Weak vs. Obama

Since I wrote this little blog post the other day, picked up at Real Clear Politics, all of a sudden (by coincidence; I'm not claiming I had anything to do with it, but just am remarking on how rapidly the 'meme' has taken off) all sorts of people are suddenly realizing that Mitt Romney is hardly the candidate with the best chance to beat Barack Obama.

It certainly isn't all at the Center for Individual Freedom, but we did have a written colloquy on the subject the other day, with Troy Senik and Ashton Ellis insightfully joining me in weighing in. Actually, Jonathan Last made the case earlier, here. Tina Korbe, a rising star, argues the same thing at Hot Air. Phil Klein at the Washington Examiner makes the case that Romney's flip-flopping is a big liability in a general election (as it was for Al Gore and to a certain extent John Kerry). Back in late December, John Hawkins at Right Wing News also argued the situation quite well. Of course, Peter Ferrara made the case right here at the Spectator, although he also segued into (strong) arguments against Romney's ability to do a good job if he were elected anyway. William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection also has questions.

The scholarly take on it, again doubting Romney's electability, was by Larry Lindsey at the Weekly Standard. From the center-left, the very smart former U.S. Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) thinks his (former) party doesn't have much to worry about from Romney: "The fact, however, is that Democrats have not had to strain to plan the race they would run against Romney. For four days in the week, they will paint him as a flip-flopper who has occupied both sides of a lot of ground; for three days, as an entitled tool of corporate interests who made millions doling out pink slips on behalf of a shadowy management firm." Also at NRO, Andy McCarthy doubts whether we can know who is more electable.

At the New York Post, John Podhoretz writes a piece about Romney headlined "Never Has a Winner Looked so Beaten." The column is brutal. It calls Romney "one of the weakest major candidates either party has ever seen." Also: "[N]obody loves him. No one is inspired by him.… Claiming he should be president because he knows how to run a business may be the least stirring message any candidate has seized upon since Michael Dukakis foundered in 1988 by claiming he could bring 'competence' to the White House. And his liabilities are undeniable. Even though Gingrich's assault on Romney's record of laying off workers when he was running Bain Capital is breathtaking in its disingenuousness, that record does happen to be one of a dozen glaring weaknesses in Romney's biography, political history and approach that President Obama and his team will be able to use to their advantage." And Jonah Goldberg writes that Romney's "authentic inauthenticity problem isn't going away."

Plenty other similar pieces are out there, all in a rush. And they are all correct.

I try to look at these things from three perspectives based in my own experience. [MUCH MORE] I've been a political activist/political professional/presidential campaign state executive director/presidential caucus organizer/leadership Hill staffer, so I have a participant's perspective. I've been a PR executive, so I then try to look at it from a marketing perspective. And I've been a journalist/columnist for 15 years, so there's the close observer/outsider perspective. (This is not to boast about my background, but only to explain HOW I arrive at looking at things, from different angles, as a way to check my assumptions -- althought I do have a long record of getting it right.)

Anyway, here's what I see. I see, first, a candidate who "fails to inspire." This is hugely important. It's the old Dole/McCain/Bush 41 thing again: Without energizing one's base, it doesn't matter if you can get a few extra percentage points from "swing" voters (even assuming it's true that those extra few points are achievable -- which is probably not true anyway, because if you aren't inspirational, you aren't inspirational, period, meaning you don't inspire the middle either). It's also true that millions of voters really can decide to stay home; remember that Karl Rove estimated that up to 4 million expected Evangelical Bush backers stayed home in 2000 after being disgusted by last-weekend news that Bush had had a drunk driving arrest way back when. The result, of course, was a race that took six extra weeks to decide.

Next is a candidate's history, which was the basis of my original post on this front. Aside from winning the governorship against extremely weak opposition in a three-way race where he failed to get an actual majority of the vote, in a state that despite its liberalism had become accustomed to electing Republican governors (for 12 straight years), Romney still has never won an electorally significant victory that wasn't in his native state (Michigan) or in a state that is his backyard and site of his vacation home (New Hampshire). Even in Iowa, his mere eight-vote win after five years of work there amounted to six (yes, count them, exactly six) fewer votes than he earned four years earlier in the same caucus system.

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