My original reason why Romney wouldn’t win in November was low hanging fruit, so I thought I’d go a little bolder with this one. Mitt Romney won’t win because he is a terrible candidate, and while that may seem to contradict things I have said about him earlier, it doesn’t; I never said he was a good candidate, I said he was the best available choice. There’s a difference between “best available choice” and “objectively good choice”. It’s like the difference between undiagnosed prostate cancer and regular rectal exams. Neither is particularly pleasant, but you can put up with one to avoid the other. And yeah, I just compared nominating Mitt Romney to having a finger up your ass. If you’re a conservative, and really honest with yourself about it, you know I’m right.
Romney ran as the strongest candidate against the weakest field of Republican candidates in my lifetime; if this year’s Republican primary was an American Idol audition, Romney was William Hung to a field of howler monkeys and braying donkeys. I thought about making those links figurative and linking to Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain clips, but you’re welcome. That said, this is a serious liability for Romney. He really is a poor candidate, by which I don’t mean in some random or vague sense of “boy, they could have done better”, I mean “Mitt Romney sucks at running for office and will fuck this race up and lose.”
We’ve already seen some warning signs. Romney and his campaign have totally mismanaged the micro-scandal of his high school bullying days. He can’t seem to bring himself to distance himself from followers, even when they turn out to be unapologetic crackpots. He barely held his own in the Republican primary debates–and even duffed a few, which shouldn’t have been possible for a capable, qualified candidate. Think of a strong Republican candidate losing a primary debate this year like Mark McGwire losing a home run derby in a tee ball league; he was the only credible contender, but he was overshadowed by clowns like Bachmann and Perry. Obama is going to shred Romney in the debates, because Obama is a skilled, serious politician and Romney is a spiritual heir to the Habsburgs; he’s Percy Blakeney without the Scarlet Pimpernel, Don Diego de la Vega without the Zorro. Romney laughs about things ordinary people don’t and wouldn’t. He’s easily provoked–and look for Obama to capitalize on that in their debates. Romney bets $10,000 to prove a point and means real cash–and winds up look bad to a guy who can’t remember three simple talking points. The man is a gaffe-prone, walking disaster, and he only looks good because he was running against a field of jokers who were significantly worse. Mitt Romney is Rocky Balboa in Rocky III, if you think of Obama as Clubber Lang and omit the third act. For this performance, Donald Trump will be playing the role of Apollo Creed. Like Rocky, Romney has totally owned the chumps he’s been fed in act one. . .
. . . Except he hasn’t. Newt Gingrich took South Carolina, and Santorum cleaned his clock across the rest of the bible belt (Florida doesn’t count, there are too many northern transplants here to ever reliably predict which way it’s going to go). While it’s easy to understand why, and I detailed the reasons in my Reason One post, that’s just it: it’s easy to understand why. Neither Romney nor any of his campaign staffers recognized and addressed this fundamental issue, and he lost several states as a result. There are a number of reasons this is troubling for a serious presidential contender. First, it was an obvious issue–why wasn’t it dealt with? Romney’s Mormonism was never a secret like FDR’s wheelchair, so the campaign didn’t need to hide it. It was always going to be, and still is, an issue among evangelicals. Why didn’t the Romney campaign come up with a foil for this before the first votes were cast in the south? This indicates either a serious lack of competence, or a serious lack of awareness. Neither bode well for a presidential campaign run. Time and again, Romney displays a tone-deafness that we haven’t seen in a Republican candidate since the 90’s–coincidentally, also the last time the Democrats fronted a popular, intelligent, charismatic candidate with excellent political aptitude. Sorry, Romney fans, but your candidate has all of the worst qualities of both Bush and Dole, with none of either’s mitigating strengths. This campaign will be unofficially over when Romney has his “price of a gallon of milk” moment, which is all but inevitable.
The Romney team is out of their depth. They aren’t ready for a serious national campaign, and he hasn’t replaced them for it because he is just as clueless as they are. We’re six months out from the election and the Romney national campaign is playing catch-up to an Obama team that is already on the ground running. Romney is a sacrificial lamb this year; he’s not going to win, and everybody but he and a few of his most fervent supporters know it. He was the choice of the Republican establishment, but I would bet money that if you wrapped them in Wonder Woman’s golden lasso and ask if they ever thought he had a half a chance they’d have to admit it would take a Doug Flutie miracle pass.
Because, in the end, Romney is still a shitty candidate. He’s not a particularly skilled politician. He’s never won a real political race, he’s only ever won against candidates who were marginal at best–and that includes this year’s Republican primary. Any time he’s faced a superior political foe he’s lost, and he’s managed to lose even to candidates who were inferior in a couple of cases. In 1994, he challenged Ted Kennedy for a Senate seat, in the midst of the Gingrich-fueled “Republican Revolution”, when Ted Kennedy symbolized “everything wrong” with the Democratic party, and when Kennedy’s nephew, William Kennedy Smith, was on trial in Florida for a rape that testimony placed Ted in the vicinity of; in short, about the best chance anyone was ever going to have at picking off Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts. He lost the race, 51% – 48%–in a year that Republicans overwhelmingly swept both houses. Romney couldn’t win a tough race in a year the deck was stacked in his favor. When he won the governorship of Massachusetts, it was with an uncontested primary and he still nearly lost it to a relatively weak candidate, who didn’t enjoy a huge base of support. Romney has never won a campaign against a strong contender.
Say what you will about Barack Obama, he’s a strong candidate. He gives good speeches and speaks well extemporaneously. He has good presence and strong political skills. Like him or not, he’s a force to be reckoned with, something you just can’t say with a straight face about Mitt Romney. The Republicans need a candidate who is strong, because the base worships strength and prostrates itself fervently at the phallic altar of anything that appears remotely rigid and upright. They also need a strong candidate who can reach beyond their limited range of issues and appeal to swing voters. Playing footsie with birthers is not the right direction here.
There is a paradox here, one that McCain discovered in 2008: to win the Republican primary, you have to appeal to the base–who are radically irrational. To win the general election, you have to distance yourself from the insane positions that won you the primary–without scaring away the lunatic base. McCain might have had a shot of pulling this off if he hadn’t ankle-chained himself to the batshit-crazy antics of Sarah Palin, and Romney was doing a pretty good job of threading the needle before the batshit-crazy antics of Rick Santorum caused him to swing hard right. Now he’s in the impossible position of a man trying to run against a serious candidate who will, undoubtedly, use his own words against him, forcing Romney to defend himself against the iteration of himself he became just to win the nomination. I’d feel bad for the guy, if he wasn’t such an irritating prick. Instead, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy the show.
Barack Obama won because he came from a background that lets him relate to ordinary people. Bill Clinton won for the same reason. George W. Bush also cultivated a “folksy” appeal. John McCain didn’t have it; his running mate did–sort of, anyway, but she also turned out to be only slightly more credible as a candidate than Lyndon LaRouche, and possibly less qualified on foreign affairs. For Mitt Romney to win this election, his key strategy is: stop being Mitt Romney, and start being somebody people can actually relate to and/or care about. I don’t think he’s going to be able to pull that off. Hearing Republican friends and family predicting a Romney win is just so much whistling past the graveyard; I can’t think any of them seriously believe it, they have to just be hoping that if they say it enough times, maybe it will come true; it’s kind of Oprah of them when you think about it.
The Romney campaign organization reminds me of the Buffalo Bills under Marv Levy: solid, steady, consistent, and competent, but utterly incapable of dynamic change or rapid adaptation to adverse circumstances. Their stability and competence got them to four consecutive Super Bowls in the 90’s, and their inability to change up their game plan when it wasn’t working is why they lost every single one of them. Through the ’08 and ’12 primaries, Romney’s game plan has been consistent and unwavering. It has enabled him to grind down his lesser opponents, and as of this week he’s officially won his equivalent to an AFC championship ring. Like the Levy’s Bills, that’s as far as he’s going to go.