Romney in context

Given the sorry state of the Republican presidential field, I think it makes it pretty easy to over-estimate Mitt Romney.  He’s not a horrible presumed nominee, but by no means is he a great one.  He simply the average-sized man in a room full of midgets.  Chait does a nice job making this point at length:

But the oft-repeated claim that Romney is the strongest candidate has lulled many people into thinking that Romney is a strong candidate. The last two days of the campaign have exposed just how bad this supposition is…

The flurry of bad stories — check out this chart of how negative the coverage of Romney has turned — have exposed weaknesses that Romney had managed to keep at least partially concealed. The first is his tenure at Bain Capital. Romney has held this up to symbolize that he “understands” the private sector, “how jobs come and how they go”. Romney’s rivals, with the aid of some ill-chosen remarks by Romney, have turned it into a symbol of Romney’s imperiousness.

It won’t disqualify Romney against Obama, and it may not even be a serious liability, but it does seem that his strongest qualification has been effectively neutralized. If even Republican primary voters react negatively to Romney’s business history — and Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry all believe they do, as evidenced by their gleeful pile-on — then assuredly Romney’s principled defense of capitalism won’t play any better among a general election audience.

This part, I especially love because I’d never quite thought about it that way and I think it is spot-on:

Romney’s talents as a politician have been overrated because he so perfectly fits the stereotype of how a politician should look and act. Yet, as any number of journalists watching him in action have noted, there is something a little off about the presentation. As National Review editor Rich Lowry puts it, “Romney’s campaign is all technique and no music.” It seems strange for such a tall, handsome, articulate man to have trouble gaining loyalty, but it’s actually quite natural. The best salesmen don’t look or act like a consummate salesman. Their customers like them precisely because they don’t come off like a salesman. The best politicians are those who don’t come off like politicians.

That said, I don’t know that his political talents are especially overrated.  Strikes me as that the mainstream media has always been quite aware of Romney’s “off-ness” and inherent diffuclty in connecting with and inspiring voters.  What he does have going for him, is that for the most part, he avoids major mistakes and just does what he’s supposed to do.  That will take you a long way.  Maybe all the way to the White House.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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