“I had observed him by this time for several months,” Theodore H. White wrote of Richard Nixon in The Making of the President 1960, “and he had persisted as a puzzle to my mind and understanding.” To me, Mitt Romney remains a puzzle. Gentle reader, help me unlock, as Churchill called Russia, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”
One moment, I rue that the Republican front-runner has changed positions, but not personality. Another, he seems exactly what the doctor ordered as President – a business-savvy “Dr. Fix the Economy” before America’s economy implodes.
One day I think Romney tall, dark, and handsome: go directly to Mt. Rushmore. Next, I doubt that the middle class will elect someone who said, “When the economy’s bad, buy stocks.” Yin: He can be as stirring as Lawrence Welk. Yang: Unlike Barack Obama, Welk was competent. I feel like The Three Faces of Eve trying to grasp the Twelve Days of Mitt.
According to every national poll, Romney is the GOP candidate most likely to ensure Obama’s involuntary retirement. “I’d father be a really good one-term President,” Obama has said, “than a mediocre two-term President.” Romney’s luck is that this President has been a really bad one-term bust.
To win, Obama must change the subject to the Republicans. Attack. Smear. Cry extremism. His problem may be demonizing someone who seems benign, is a model husband and family man, and has never had a bad hair day. Romney’s career – entrepreneur, Olympics savior, Massachusetts Governor – ties sanity, skill, above all, moderation. Many think him not too conservative, but not conservative enough
This may hurt, if not fatally, in January-February caucuses and primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina. Nominated, it would almost surely help. Mitt seems in sync with the majority view of tax and spend, traditional values, limited government, and American exceptionalism. (Read his book No Apology: The Case for America’s Greatness, scoring Obama’s groveling for U.S. real and feigned sin.) He has improved exponentially as a speaker and debater since his 2008 campaign: vital against Obama, who is nothing if not – some say nothing but – slick.
It is true that Romney can still be awkward. Those put off are mostly liberal, shallow, secular, and bi-coastal, unlikely to vote GOP if Lincoln were its nominee. By contrast, an unemployed steelworker is unlikely to care if a job-providing President is hip or square. (I prefer the latter.) Romney still lacks connecting tissue – affinity - – between the working still and workaholic public man. Usually, it would doom him. Given 8.6 percent unemployment, it may not even matter.
The son of a businessman and Governor, Romney is worth $250 million, with homes in Michigan and New Hampshire: to some, a symbol of those, quoting Mike Huckabee, who deem summer a verb. “Romney embodies the leadership class,” notes columnist David Brooks. At a time when most detest it, he seems an unlikely would-be Prez. Romney’s ace: America needs jobs, and jobs are what he does. Bread and butter is his bridge to the bourgeoisie.
That said, Romney’s vitae hasn’t closed the deal. Roger Wilkins, a black aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson, said that “part of me loved LBJ [civil rights], and another part hated him [Southern accent]. So I didn’t know how to react” – like me. I don’t love or hate Romney – simply don’t understand him. This worries me, since if Bush 43 and Obama have taught us anything it is caveat emptor.
Is Romney left, right, or center? Is his pragmatism a mean, or ends? To most Republicans In Name Only, compromise means surrender. At one time or another Romney has backed gay marriage, abortion, and government health care. By contrast, in 2007 he defended his Mormon faith, hailed our Judeo-Christian tradition, and scorned bigots pining to drive religion from the public square. Did he mean his tour de force?Elected, would he betray Middle America, like the last two Presidents? The short answer: We don’t, can’t, know.
Part of me is resigned to Romney’s nomination. Part embraces his perceived electability. Another part hears warning bells: a corporate, Wall Street, big business Republican, the kind whose DNA snatches political defeat from the jaws of victory. Tom Dewey. Nelson Rockefeller. Bush 41 and 43. John McCain. We have seen this film before.
In The King and I, Yul Brynner said “Tis a Puzzlement.” Every would-be President is a Rorschach test seen through a voter’s prism. Romney is less blank slate that blurred glass. To win, he must show the man behind the poised, glib front. Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, “There’s no there, there.” Romney has a there, there – in fact, several. The GOP needs to know which would take the Oath of Office thirteen months from now.
Have PoliticalMavens.com delivered to your inbox in a daily digest by clicking here