Monday, January 23, 2012

There's Something About Mitt

So far Mitt Romney has lost two out of three primaries, twice to candidates that the establishment didn't even feel were worthy of their attention. In his biggest victory in New Hampshire he barely managed to take 40 percent of the vote.

Like it or not Republicans voters are not particularly thrilled about Romney. But how ecstatic can anyone be about a candidate whose main draw is electability. Electability is an excellent strategic calculation, but it garners about as much enthusiasm as any other form of expediency. Most people who vote the big 'R' recognize the importance of getting Obama out at any cost, but they are not going to get very fired up about a man whose only credential is that of being able to win.

Winning may be everything, but to win a battle you have to remember what it is that you are fighting for. If we are out to win, then what do we win with Romney? Hopefully we win four years of Obama not being in office. That's a pretty solid prize right there and people will turn out for it, but is it enough to win in order to win? And can we win by fielding a candidate who exists only to win?

As the ugly parade of accusations winds its way down Main Street in a ticker tape parade of SuperPAC ads and smears, the ideas have mostly been lost in a clash of personalities. The overriding impression of the campaign is of a few angry men locked together in a room and trying to undermine each other when they aren't outright berating each other. Non-issues rule the day. Tax returns, college records, affairs and anything that avoids dealing with the economic meltdown.

The hostages here are Republican voters who are once again told to choose between professional politicians who have spent so much time tearing down each other that all of them look bad in one way or another. If you believe the various supporters of one candidate or another, then their opponents are Communist supporters of big government who are mentally unstable and given to kicking guinea pigs around the house.

Romney was the establishment's choice for them. He still is. And he's still the candidate that voters are uncomfortable with because he appears to stand for nothing. The more he smiles and the better his hair looks, the more you wonder who is this man on stage. Does he have any purpose besides touring the country, ruffling the hair of nearby youngsters and commenting awkwardly on the economy?

Even Huntsman managed to convincingly believe in something, even if that something was that his party needed to be more like the Democrats. Throughout this season we have had a parade of candidates who seemed to compellingly believe in something. Romney is the exception. It's not just his flip flops, few professional politicians have gone more than a few years without changing some political positions. It's that cheerful vacuum that he projects into the television screen, the event horizon of a politician surrounding a gaping black hole.

Romney must believe something, but it's hard to say what. His career is that of a salesman pitching a product. The products have gotten more and more upscale and the sales pitch is aggressive, but what does the product actually do? We don't really know. It looks good, it's very salable, but what is it for besides winning elections?

The biggest advantage that Romney brings to the ticket is the lack of a personality. That is what makes him electable in a general election. Not because he has any real depth of appeal, but because he will seem like a safe bet for a country that wants change, but is less eager to commit to radical change this time around. But that is also what makes him so unappealing in primary elections that appeal to voters who actually want a candidate to stand for something.

It's as if Romney has spent so much time perfecting his persona, from his missionary days to his political and corporate period, that he projects a perfectly seamless and shiny outer shell, but without the passion and personality that would make him seem human. That would make us believe that he is more than a political machine in human form desperately seeking to get elected.

There's no doubt that there is an inner Romney, but it's more doubtful whether that inner Romney really cares about issues. Romney's career has been post-ideological, which may not be such a bad thing, except that what it really means is that he is a great compromiser and his compromises in the past have trended to the left.

Huntsman believed that the Republican Party was wrong and was man enough to go out there and say it. Romney wouldn't say it even if he did believe it, but it's doubtful that he believes it. Romney does not appear to think about issues in terms of political positions, only in problem solving terms. And that's not nearly as good as it sounds. What it means is that if voters want gay rights, then he will fight for gay rights. If global warming seems to be a concern, then he will work out a way to reduce carbon emissions without impacting business too much. If guns are an issue, then he will work together with gun control and gun rights advocates to draw up another compromise which may undermine the Second Amendment, but does solve the "problem".

The problem with Republican politicians like this is that they fail to consider who is framing the terms of the problem. Instead they are too busy solving manufactured problems while frowning impatiently at conservatives who stand in the way of the problem being solved.

Romney is not stupid, but neither is he insightful. If Santorum and Gingrich see massive culture wars in which they want to play a commanding role, Romney believes that most ideological arguments would go away with sane reasonable management at the top. And he would like to provide that management. If his opponents are mocked as running for Cromwell or Napoleon, he sees himself as going through a headhunting process to become the CEO of America.

If America's problems were only those of mismanagement, then Mitt might be the guy. But the mismanagement is ideological and the massive national debt is the result of too many compromises and backroom deals between the ideologically corrupt and the just plain corrupt. Anyone who recognizes that feels an instinctive antipathy to those politicians who just don't get it. And they see Romney not as the King of Bain, but as the king of those who don't get it.

Romney doesn't understand why he is hated, either by his opponents or by many of the voters. Like most reasonable but clueless people, he knows that he is the adult in the room because he is the one speaking calmly, dressing professionally and following the right procedures to move forward. He has done everything he was supposed to and appears alternately frustrated and bemused to see the primaries slipping away from him.

The problem is that Romney doesn't understand. He doesn't understand why you don't try to clumsily empathize with things you can't relate to, or why his association with the establishment has made his already toxic image even more toxic. His air of competence belies a supreme cluelessness to the currents around him.

Romney is an excellent salesman, but people have an instinctive dislike of salesman, of a slickness that is too slick, a patter that is too good and a willingness to say anything that will make the sale. In art it is often the blotch, the mar and the smear that lends a piece its depth and authenticity. Perfect pieces are a dime a dozen, it's the imperfections that make it seem real.

Gingrich's imperfections, his ego and his bellicosity, lend him an authenticity that Romney can't have. Equally Santorum's nerdiness makes him seem real in a way that Romney can never be. The issue isn't class. It's just the wrong time for salesmen, especially when the salesman looks like the representative of an equally clueless establishment that many voters blame for the existing state of affairs.

Underneath Romney's poise a sense of hurt and frustration seems to bleed through. The angst of a man who has a ragged copy of How To Win Friends and Influence People under the pillow, who practices his smiles in front of a mirror and has learned all the habits of highly effective people by rote, but who cannot understand why the other kids don't want to play with him at recess.

To the establishment Mitt is perfect for the same reasons that he is toxic to the base. His blandness means that he has no threatening ideas. His flexibility will allow him to adopt any position and his post-ideological thinking will mean no difficulties with switching gears. Best of all he looks the part. After a series of problematic candidates, he is perfect. Perfectly unobjectionable.

And they might be right. Romney might be the most electable of the bunch. Maybe he is the only one who can win. Most of us have had thoughts like that, but even if we have to settle for the Prius of politicians, voters are still interested in test driving something big and mean which spews up a lot of smoke and scares everyone off the street. Or maybe a classic model which might look silly today but reminds us of the America that used to be, the America of the sweater vest, the traditional family and the pipe, rather than the America where we settle for the Prius and try to make it to the cash register without having to hear another Lady Gaga song.

Romney doesn't do the vision thing. And maybe he doesn't need to win an election. But then again maybe a candidate without a vision is too plastic to do more than recite bland slogans and stand out there like a wax mannequin waiting for someone to take a photo with him. If his backers were honest, they would strip out all the stuff about his opponents being Communists and focus only on his electability. After South Carolina, that seems to be the way they are headed.

As the electoral terminator, the ballot killing machine whose only purpose is to give the idiots who voted for Obama a non-threatening alternative, he might pass. But then again he might not, because there is a reason that people voted for Obama. It may have been a terrible mistake, but millions still saw something there. What they saw was a lie, but it doesn't mean that they won't see it again unless there is a compelling alternative to snap them out of the daze.

If Romney largely keeps his image intact, he may win the general election. But how well will he actually do under the sustained fire of the media establishment, its comedian flunkies and all the hate and hostility of a liberal establishment with a white knuckled grip on power? It might be wiser to look at survivors, at two opponents who have survived and won when they weren't supposed to. Who have stood up and beaten back their own local establishment.

This election will be a hard and ugly fight. And Romney may be the most electable robot for the job, but if we're going down a hard road maybe it's best we take a car that can handle the roads and leave the Prius at home.


Patty Depalma said...

Nah, his main draw is sex. He is a good looking man. Face it, America needs sex in the White House.

Martin Deporres said...

The Republican candidates will make sure Obama wins re election.

CL said...

Romney reminds me of a Stepford Wife

American Genie said...

I took issue with the way he was presented as the only viable candidate by the GOP from the moment he announced he was running. My initial response, and how I feel about it now is that they are giving us another McCain.

I have visions of a debate between Romney and Obama turning into a mutual admiration exchange.

I felt like McCain sabotaged his own campaign, and while I don't think Romney will do that, I do think that he is incapable of looking like little more than a white Obama without the evil, and the arrogance.

Another problem I have with Mitt is that he has a very naive view of Islam. That is a deal breaker for me.

People accuse me of being crazy for making "must have a strong stance against Islam" my most desired quality in a candidate, but I make no apologies for it. I think that it is the biggest threat to the world, and it has gained too strong of a foothold in the USA already.

Your analysis was perfect as usual.

Thank you.

American Genie said...

Patty, the last thing I think of when I look at Mitt Romney is sex. He has all the sex appeal of a cold fish.

His looks do not appeal to me at all.

Anonymous said...

Great article, good points. The sheeples and re-distribution benefitees will put Obama in again, as they, at least, are unified in their stupidity and self-interest. Between now and November might be a good time for Israel to bomb the Iranian nuclear sites. Wondering if the Muslim Brotherhood will formally endorse Barry this time. He really has come through for them in the "Arab Spring".

John K said...

"The problem is that Romney doesn't understand."

Well, Atlas Shrugs just posted a video of Romney praising Hezbollah for setting up a health care system in Lebanon. I had hoped that when Walid Phares came on board that Romney would improve on Islam, but now I see he's just hopeless.

"Maybe he is the only one who can win. Most of us have had thoughts like that"

Yes, but that means I will vote for him against Obama. I will not vote for him in a primary unless the remaining candidates are worse than him.

Anonymous said...

The best analysis of Romney!

Romney is plastic, too stretchy and a compromiser. He wants to get along; and the establishment is aware that they no longer can rig who we elect. They are as desperate as Romney; following Newts win in SC - they really, really revealed themself; and what we saw is ugly.
Romney will not be the conservative base choice; too much is at stake this time.
Let's be real for a moment: The guy is running for president going on 5 yrs; and has not improved his standing. Obama, and his machine make mincemeat out of him.
I do believe, Romney is as empty as Obama, although not quite the 'pomp';he too think he's THE redeemer.
But we also need to take a stand which is NOT to accept the establishment pick; 2008 and McCain was enough.
Until the establishment learns that, I'd say crash and burn, because I am for one tired that come election time, they remember me, ask for money, and vote, only to backstab me again after an election, and they retain their status quo. They have allowed the left to malign, harrass, accuse, libel and literally almost destroy us, andd yet never lifted a finger to stand up for us.
Andthat is what they don't get!

Leah said...

Got it, Daniel. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

McCain redux? I think so.

Chana Elisheva said...

Romney is a decent man. That is what bothers so many people who are just as willing to vote in a sleazebag as not.
The world is not used to decent men anymore.

Lev Tannen said...

Excellent analysis.
Daniel, could you please clarify one thing? When Mr.Gingrich have touched Bain Capital, many very reputable conservatives qualified this as an assault on capitalism. But I do not understand why.
As I understand once thriving American steel industry was wiped out by a flood of cheap Chinese steel. Is it an assault on capitalism to assume that along with external circumstances a bad management played a role? Bain Capital earned millions while managing steel mills at that period. Is it assault on capitalism to say that something is wrong in the business model of the company that manages to earn profit while the managed industry goes down?
Could you please tell me were I am wrong. While so many very reputable observers say that Bain Capital has excellent records? And why questioning those records constitutes an assault on capitalism?
Thank you.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

Let me put it this way, if Gingrich had worked at Bain Capital, then attacking his tenure there would no longer be an assault on capitalism.

Lev Tannen said...

Thank you for answer, but not sure. The first who I heard screaming was Mark Levin, who is definitely not a Mr. Romney supporter.

Bump Up said...

YOU SAID:"What it means is that if voters want gay rights, then he will fight for gay rights. If global warming seems to be a concern, then he will work out a way to reduce carbon emissions without impacting business too much. If guns are an issue, then he will work together"

The purpose of a public servant is to carry out the will of the public he serves, not his own.

Andy Texan said...

Gingrich candidacy is the closest thing we have to an inheritor of the Reagan mantle. Perhaps the left has won the war and no Reagan renewal is possible. That is a distinct possiblity given the anti-Gingrich virulence of the Republican elites (surpassing perhaps that of even the Obama machine). A Gingrich presidency is likely the last push-back against the socialist tide. It certainly won't be President Romney. If Obama can be elected to a second term given the lawlessness of his first, well the old USA is truly a thing of the past.

Post a Comment