Surely a great number of Democrats and independents have to be wondering that. Here’s a guy who could play a middle-aged Clark Kent. He’s smart, articulate, well-bred. The biggest knocks on him seem to be 1) he’s too successful and 2) he’s too civil.
Really? Those are problems? Heaven help us if that’s so.
So why are Republican voters having such a hard time saying “yes” to this guy?
Part of the hesitation has little to do with him: There’s simply a vacuum at the top. Democrats hold the White House, and there’s been a nearly unprecedented herd of Republicans hoping to oust the other party. The field, though winnowed, has been very crowded. Divided loyalties are just going to happen.
That’s not a problem. That’s our system of self-governance. And as messy as it appears, it’s a beautiful thing.
Republicans need to be very careful right now, however. It’s likely that, once there’s a nominee, the entire party will unite behind him to defeat Barack Obama. But the campaign is reaching a delicate turning point in Florida – and candidates need to be cautious not to inflict crippling wounds on each other.
Another of Romney’s non-Romney problems is Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich’s bold vision, his willingness to take on this president in blunt terms, and his stinging and long-needed rebukes of the left-wing media have gotten conservatives energized like no other candidate has in years. Without Gingrich, it’s likely Romney sails to the nomination unscathed and largely unchallenged. Astride Gingrich, Romney can come off milquetoast.
Besides all that, Romney has some of his own problems.
He does appear detached and wooden – and in this day and age, that’s a huge drawback. It does matter how people feel. Elections can hinge on emotion, sad to say, and if a candidate can’t “feel your pain” – as Bill Clinton famously claimed to do – then it turns some folks off.
And again, next to Gingrich’s fire, that can look like ice.
Romney also appears to have been poorly served by his handlers and speech writers. He released his tax returns long after the failure to release them had started slicing deep into his image – and his answers to demands for their release were fumbling and equivocal. “Maybe”? Who ever said “maybe” in a presidential debate? If he was torn about that, what other, thornier, decisions will endlessly torment him as president? It just makes him look hopelessly indecisive, though surely a businessman of his stature surely can’t be.
It would go a long way toward resuscitating that image if he would start giving snappier answers. Again, it’s sad to say, but that’s what is called for today. He could have, for instance, nipped the tax return issue in the bud by simply saying, “I’ll release them tomorrow – but the fact is, this election isn’t about my money, it’s about yours!” Now that would resonate.
It would also be true.
But Mitt Romney’s two main problems are with conservatives:
1) We believe this country needs a major change in direction; he appears to be the type for minor course corrections. Gingrich has cuttingly referred to Romney “managing the decay” in Washington.
2) He hasn’t convinced us that he’s really a conservative – or whether he’s a Ronald Reagan brand or a George W. Bush one. The first kind is rock-solid and dependable; the second is not. Truth be known, conservatives are still traumatized by the Bush experience – and are deathly afraid a Romney presidency would only be a reprise of it.
So, what’s wrong with Mitt Romney? In the scheme of things, not much. But his campaign needs some tweaking, and he needs to understand that he has yet to win over the conservative Republican base. We’ve yet to detect his moorings. And that’s a significant shortcoming in a GOP primary.
As long as the process is, Romney is running out of time to fix what’s wrong. This could be a make-or-break week for Romney. If Gingrich wins Florida and makes Romney look bad doing it, the numbers may not say it but the psychology will: Romney will be on the ropes.