Monday, May 23, 2011

Looking the Part Probably Isn't Enough

Robert Reich's comments about Mitt Romney remind me of some of the "man crush" comments from four years ago...
Why is Mitt doing so well? Partly because Obama's positions are by now well known, while voters can project anything they want onto Mitt. It's also because much of the public continues to worry about the economy, jobs, and the price of gas at the pump, and they inevitably blame the president.

But I suspect something else is at work here, too. To many voters, President Obama sounds and acts presidential, but he doesn't look it. Mitt Romney is the perfect candidate for people uncomfortable that their president is black. Mitt is their great white hope.
The thing is, Romney looked and sounded considerably more presidential than John McCain, at least if you didn't listen to the substance of his comments. And that should scare you a bit, because McCain wasn't exactly strong on substance.

When you look at Romney's character, or lack thereof, you can see why he makes the modern Republican Party nervous - while he says the right things on most litmus test issues, he has previously spoken on most of those issues while taking the opposite position - and some of his past speeches seem considerably more earnest and sincere than his present repudiations. If you want a competent, hard-working President, dare I suggest that Romney isn't your man - I joked some time ago about candidates like Romney, Huckabee and Palin who attacked the President's résumé as too thin while having, themselves, given up anything resembling an actual job - that is, for years, the only thing they have been running are their mouths. With all due respect to the fact that Huckabee and Palin took jobs with Fox News, that's more of an affirmation of my point than a repudiation. Even as governor, Romney seemed principally concerned with positioning himself for higher office. (Little did he know that a conservative health reform plan that is by many measures quite successful could be his downfall.)

But, having taken full advantage of his father's name, wealth, connections to build his own fortune as a corporate raider, back during a stock market boom, Romney apparently makes the business community comfortable. Within that world he probably does come across as substantive and sincere - a man who will help fight unions, business taxes, and any other threat to corporate profits. As one of his biggest backers, David Frum, notes,
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney has been plugging along, off-camera, raising money, building support among business leaders and county party chairs.
If only he can get Roger Ailes and the Fox News media machine on his side, Frum's story goes, he'll have the nomination locked up. What big issue could it be that would keep somebody like Ailes from embracing Romney as a true, pro-business culture warrior? Could it be... health care? That he doesn't believe that Romney will in fact work hard to overturn a national health plan that was created largely in the image of the one Romney implemented in Massachusetts?

The savaging of Newt Gingrich by the right-wing media should give you some sense of how uncomfortable certain people in power are with the idea of a 1990's-style Republican President - somebody who is by any reasonable measure a conservative Republican but who rose to prominence at the tail end of an era of occasional bipartisanship and fewer litmus tests. What if, when elected President, they go back to that form of governance, pull the Republican Party back toward the center, allow healthcare reform to become fully implemented, refuse to slash Medicare and Social Security.... No matter how broad his shoulders or presidential his hair style, and with due respect to why David Frum wishes for his nomination, I don't think Romney can cultivate a look powerful enough to overcome his shortcomings to the present Republican Party.

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