Friday, August 10, 2012
Is The Romney Candidacy Doomed?
Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But since the "disconcerting" gaffe committed by Gov. Romney on his arrival in London for the opening of the 2012 Olympics on July 26th his numbers have seen a slow, steady decline. They are currently at their lowest point since he was declared the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party back in April.
On the surface, as a spokesman for his campaign and Nate Silver have explained, there's not a whole lot to support the idea there's a general collapse. No major events -- debates, conventions, vp picks, economic numbers, world crises -- have intervened to justify thinking this is more than a mild aberration in polling that has shown, up to now, remarkable, even, many have observed, an unprecedented consistency. In general, averaging polls, there's been about a one or two point spread in favor of the President, over the last several months. Until recently.
But there are signs, and a rationale, that suggests these are the first predictable wobbles of a fundamentally untenable candidacy. The contradictions embodied in Romney's presidential bid, the conflicts and internal stresses created by his ideological, economic, ethical, political and geographical variance from the heart of his party, posed a monumental challenge that he barely surmounted in the primaries. He managed only to survive in a field of candidates so inept, reviled, amateurish and marginal that it may be not a single one among them will be deemed fit to speak at the convention. No doubt pressure has already been exerted to keep more than a few away from the venue entirely. Yet every man, woman and misfit among them came from single digits to at some point hold a polling lead over Mitt Romney.
Were that the entirety of his troubles it would be reaching to suggest disappointed Cain, Bachmann, Santorum and Gingrich voters could prove a fatal drag on the ticket.
What it underscores, however, are deep flaws, cracks in a candidacy that can't be smoothed over and that threaten to fissure every time the Romney jugger-not comes under scrutiny. A party with an historically-aroused insurrectionist, anti-government base is about to nominate a fabulously rich, lifelong establishment ex-governor of the most liberal state in the union. If that seems unlikely and mistimed in this first election since the 2008-09 financial catastrophe, it is only the most glaring of the jenga-like, ill-fit pieces of his campaign.
Becoming a billionaire does not, of itself, deracinate a human being. Warren Buffett sounds more like a midwesterner to most people than a magnate. Even Donald Trump has a certain oily humanity. But if you're going to nominate a guy worth half a billion dollars in 2012 he ought to at least be able to fake the "common touch".
Romney can't. His problem, beyond his stiff, more-comfortable-in-a-tie demeanor is his ear. His tone deaf rendering of "America" resonates because it is resonant of him -- of his trying too hard, of his lack of self-recognition. He continually misgauges his effect. He hasn't a clue that it is neither cute nor winning to ask an audience to endure an overlong rote rendering of a bland anthem in a painfully bad voice. It's an imposition.
More to the point, he does this on the big stage and when it counts. His response to the question whether he thought London was ready to host the Olympics was iconic mis-speak. "Well, some things are disconcerting..." You bet they are; the word 'disconcerting' a case in point. It was a sphincter-spasm of a moment, a case of rapid over-think. What happens if I say "yes" and there's a terror attack. God, I could lose the election. Better cover my ass. No, no, no, Mitt -- this is not about you, it's about your hosts and making them feel comfortable. It's the empathy, stupid! You are there with our ally, our very good ally with whom we enjoy a special relationship. First chance you had to do the job you blew it.
And 'disconcerting', oh, my, so the wrong word -- clinical, dispassionate, arrogant, a tad pedantic.
Okay. One bad day. But Romney's running out of opportunities to make a first impression.
This, too, would be minor were it not for the fact the playing field is so stacked against him. For example:
ROMNEY'S TAX RETURNS PROBLEM
Is withholding them simply a miscalculation? In an election year when tax policy, whom to tax and how much, is one of the two central issues why would a presidential nominee make the strategic decision to stonewall the release of his returns. Thinking what? That the issue can be endlessly deflected, or will vanish? That only on the verge of having fatal damage inflicted will you release your returns? That decision makes certain, "bakes in" if you will, two bad outcomes: 1) Either voters will go to the polls with a big question mark floating over the issue of your character and transparency, or 2) If and when you are finally compelled to release the returns it will be so late in the campaign anything unflattering or damaging will leave you no hope of fully recovering. At the same time you will have antagonized and betrayed your supporters by mishandling the matter. It's possible there's not much there and his team has decided to take the air out of the ball by waiting. But it, too, looks like a poor strategy. Particularly given the context--an election about tax rates.
ROMNEY'S OBAMACARE PROBLEM
The other central issue -- tied directly to deficit reduction and entitlement issues -- is healthcare. There's no prominent Republican in the last 20 years who could be a less credible opponent of the Affordable Care Act than Mitt Romney. Period.
THE VICE PRESIDENTIAL BOX
While composing this post Romney raced to put out a number of fires that began with the Olympics gaffe by announcing that Paul Ryan would be his choice for running mate. Those fires were further stoked by a controversial SuperPAC ad that implicated Romney and Bain in the cancer death of the narrator's uninsured wife. The inflamed auto-immune responses to the ad within the GOP gave birth to this post. Their intensity exampled why this candidacy may simply not have the requisite integrity to withstand the pressure of a long, hard campaign. First there was the outrage at the ad itself by the same people who have called this President a communist, a muslim, denied his citizenship and mis-characterized almost every remark he's made the last 3 and a half years -- a dudgeon that is surely unsustainable, particularly with the Romney SuperPacs gearing up. Romney declared himself on the "high ground". But then came the sympathetic defense of Romney by his spokesperson Andrea Saul. She pointed out the eletions in the story and that under Governor Romney in Massachusetts this man's wife would have had Romneycare.
Redstate.com's Erick Erickson tweeted hysterically "OMG. This just might be the moment Romney lost the election." Ann Coulter blew a casket, calling for Saul's firing and threatening a boycott of Romney by the right. Rove admonished a Fox anchor for giving the SuperPac ad oxygen, then whipped together a "morale booster" to keep the troops from stampeding "Rove: Romney Even Means Ahead" as if he hadn't seen the polls everyone else had. (tlieftep: #Rove Finds Pony In A Pile Of #Mitt Aug 9th) A circular firing squad was formed. Hard on its heels a flurry of opinion pieces from right-leaning media insisting Congressman Ryan be the VP pick appeared August 8th and 9th.
This was as a thorough statistical cost/benefit analysis of Vice Presidential choices appeared at fivethirtyeight.com. It pointed out Romney's dilemma. Portman offered the best chance of helping him win the election, but was tarred with the Bush brush, possibly an even duller candidate than himself and could not help deflect the anger of the right and the suspicions of Romney and his tax havens from both Republicans and Democrats. Consequently you have the speedy wheeling out of Ryan as his choice.
Rather than a bold choice, his selection may be the most conservative move possible -- one meant to avoid an electoral disaster rather than seek an elusive victory. If the economic news continues to show slight improvement toward election day, as many forecast, this may have been the only choice that would keep donations flowing, his campaign moving forward and Romney from presiding over an ugly convention. Ryan's nomination offers the likelihood that future Romney troubles will not lead to the base deserting him en masse.
But sniping and second guessing won't disappear. The vulnerability of a candidate without a constituency being asked to defeat a personally popular president by a diverse mob of angry ideologues poses continuing perils.