Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mitt's Weakness

For the first time in the campaign Mitt Romney is on the defensive. Coming under attack from Gingrich and Perry—though, strangely, never from Ron Paul— Romney is being provided with a golden opportunity to show off his political skills.

As of now the attacks have barely drawn blood. They have been effectively parried by Romney’s legions of media admirers, most of whom have made it their raison d'etre to disparage and diminish the Gingrich campaign. It is fair to mention that Gingrich has been lobbing a lot more spit balls than live ammunition.

Romney's supporters have not had to expend very much effort to deflect them. 

As of now, if you believe InTrade, Romney’s nomination is a lock. Republicans of all stripes are reconciling themselves to candidate Romney.

And yet, some few voices are still raising doubts about the viability of candidate Romney. They have thrown serious doubt on the question of Romney’s electability.

I have been reporting on some of them, and am happy today to share the comments offered by Quin Hillyer.

Hillyer describes himself as: “a political activist/political professional/presidential campaign state executive director/presidential caucus organizer/leadership Hill staffer … a PR executive, [and]a journalist/columnist for 15 years.”

That means that he speaks with some authority.

Yesterday Hillyer addressed the current spate of attacks on Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital.

Clearly, they have been riddled with untruths and distortions. Yet, the political issue is not the virtue of private equity investments, but whether Romney’s old job, in particular, is sufficient qualification for the presidency.

Politically, we should ask how the idea of private equity resonates in the mind of the average voter. Fair or unfair, the average voter does not have good feelings about anything that looks like financial manipulation.

Hillyer issues the following warning to Republicans.

In his words: “Then there's the attacks on his tenure at Bain Capital. The attacks are over-the-top and unfair. But coming from the left in a general election campaign, they will work. That's how a weakened Ted Kennedy in a Republican year blew open a tight race against Romney and won by a landslide -- by attacking Bain (and by some subtle but effective exploitation of anti-Mormon bigotry, which unfortunately and unfairly and sickeningly will probably cost Romney a point and a half from otherwise GOP voters this year as well). What's particularly devastating here is when a candidate's big vulnerability is in the very area he tried to, and expected to, make his biggest political strength. Romney's main selling point has been that he is a good businessman who proved himself in the private sector; if that gets taken away, he's toast, because his record as governor was nothing to write home about, with his only significant 'achievement' being the execrable one of Romneycare. This is very much akin to what happened to John Kerry, who tried to make his major selling point his supposed military ‘heroism,’ when the highly on-target Swift Boat attacks made that same military service into a slight net liability. You can't win when your biggest selling point is actually a vulnerability.”

And he adds a point that deserves special emphasis. Romney, like many recent Republican candidates looks like he’s being anointed because he’s heir to the throne.

Romney was born rich and he made himself a lot richer.

Hillyer explains the risk: “Romney, indeed, is the perfect foil for the Obama campaign, first because he is the very epitome of a Republican born rich who got richer by moving money around -- a millionaire plutocrat who just can't relate to ‘ordinary’ Americans, and second because he is yet another Republican political/dynastic legatee. Think about it: We've gone from one Bush trying to outdo his Senate father by becoming president, to another Bush trying to outdo his president father by winning two terms as president, to a McCain trying to outdo his admiral father and admiral grandfather by becoming president... and now to a Romney trying to outdo his Michigan governor father and failed presidential front-runner by this time succeeding as a presidential front-runner. In the hands of the $800 million Obama campaign, this can easily be portrayed as a rather creepy and anti-American reliance on dynasticism.”

A last point, one that I have already suggested, concerns the political price of Romneycare.

Hillyer writes: “Finally, but perhaps most importantly, Romney just can't campaign against Obama's single biggest vulnerability, Obamacare. There are just too many similarities between Obamacare and Romneycare, too many bad results from Romneycare (busting the budget, etc.), and too many video clips of Romney from six years ago saying that he hoped that even the individual insurance mandate would become a ‘national model.’ This will absolutely hobble Romney's campaign. In fact, it might be an insurmountable problem.”

He concludes: “All of which is to say that Willard Mitt Romney has very low growth potential in a general-election campaign against Obama. His downside might be not as low as John McCain's was, four years ago, but his upside is negligible. As Larry Lindsey's analysis (mentioned above) explains, this can be an easy recipe for what I call a ‘respectable loss.’ But a loss is a loss is a loss. Romney is a weak general-election candidate who isn't likely to get any better.”


vanderleun said...

"Romney just can't campaign against Obama's single biggest vulnerability, Obamacare. "

Wrong. Wrong. And wrong. Obamacare (in some adumbrated form) is a done deal.

Obama's biggest vulnerabilities in the current atmosphere of the country are his incompetence, his arrogance, and, alas, his race.

Susan said...

And what to make of the fact that Romney was strongly backed-early-by Chris Christie, who ought to know the best candidate when he sees him?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

The people who gave us Romneycare also gave us Obamacare. One of them, an MIT professor, stated that they were exactly the same thing.

When Obama gets up and thanks Romney for blazing a trail toward Obamacare, what is Mitt going to say?

If the election is being decided on the basis of Obama himself, I agree with Gerard, he is going to lose.

If the country seems to be doing well, on the road to a robust recovery by next Fall, Obama will have better chance.

If Romney had the rhetorical skills of a Chris Christie that would be one thing. As of now, he does not seem to be able to articulate the case for a radical change in the political agenda. Christie could have done it; I am not so sure that Romney can.

It may be that Romney is the best candidate... Hillyer was simply saying that he has many vulnerabilities that no one is paying attention to today.

I would also mention that Bobby Jindal, a very successful governor in his own right, and one of the brightest kids on the block, endorsed Rick Perry.

Perry will not be the nominee, but still, he could have run on a very good record of accomplishment in Texas.

Nick said...

I doubt the Establishment would be too happy with Christie endorsing anyone other than their guy Romney. He has a career to manage.