Mitt Romney has a big problem.
It’s not “Romneycare.”
It’s not his Mormonism.
It’s not his shifting positions on social issues, such as abortion.
All the above are merely symptoms of Mr. Romney’s big problem.
Mr. Romney, simply put, is just not a very good politician. Americans take a look at him, and they just don’t like him on a personal, instinctual level. They then find a reasonable – or perhaps not so reasonable – rationalization to explain why they don’t like him. He’s fake. He doesn’t have much in common with the average American. He’s a flip-flopper. He’s Mormon. Romneycare. Etc.
This is the same problem John Edwards had running for president. There was nothing specifically which Mr. Edwards did wrong; he said all the right things, he had all the right credentials. But voters just didn’t like Mr. Edwards; on some level they felt uncomfortable with him. Eventually the media came up with stories tapping into this gut discomfort: Edwards was insincere, Edwards got incredibly expensive hair cuts, etc.
Back in the 2008 presidential primaries, Republican analyst Jay Cost wrote a revealing post:
[Mitt Romney's] candidacy has been the most transparently strategic this cycle. McCain is up? Go after McCain. McCain is down? Leave McCain alone. Thompson enters the race and seems a threat? Take a cheap shot about Law and Order. Thompson fades? Ignore him. Rudy is up? Go after Rudy. Huckabee is up? Go after Huck. You need to win a Republican primary? Make yourself the most socially conservative candidate in the race. And on and on and on.
If somebody asked me which candidate on the Republican side has won just a single election (in a year that his party did very well nationwide) — I would answer Mitt Romney, even knowing nothing about anybody’s biography. This kind of transparency is, to me, a sign of political inexperience. He’s only won one election, and it shows.
…Romney’s campaign is, I must say, the least authentic seeming of any on the GOP side…Unlike Kerry-Edwards, the Romney campaign knows how to stay on script. That is not its problem. Its problem is that the script changes are obviously induced by its standing in the polls. There is little subtlety to the Romney campaign. Too much of what it does is obviously strategic.
Mr. Romney’s 2008 campaign went on underperform expectations significantly. Mr. Romney promised to win Iowa and then lost to Mike Huckabee. He went on to New Hampshire and then lost again, this time to John McCain. Mr. Romney’s sole victory came in Michigan. After that, his campaign lost yet another contest to John McCain in Florida. On Super Tuesday, Mr. Romney’s campaign promised to sweep the South and win states from California to Illinois to New York. As it turned out, Mr. Romney came in third place in many southern states, and lost badly in states like California, Illinois, and New York.
Were Mr. Romney to be a better politician, none of his current weaknesses would matter. Good politicians can and have overcome significantly more daunting obstacles than Mr. Romney currently faces. John F. Kennedy was a Catholic at a time of heavy anti-Catholic sentiment. Ronald Reagan was exceptionally old. Bill Clinton cheated on his wife – and got caught doing so. Barack Obama was a black liberal from the inner-city. Yet all still were successfully elected president.
If Mr. Romney were a good politician, he too would be able to overcome anti-Mormon sentiment and “Romneycare.” The problem is that he is not.