It should be rather interesting to get inside the heads of the behind-the-scenes guys who move the pieces on the GOP chess board. What’s really the strategy for ensuring that the barest minimum of time elapses, post-George W. Bush, before another Republican occupies the White House? Both in ’08 and again this year, the party’s presidential nominee has been someone not generally considered as ideally representative of the solid-right force controlling the party as they would like. What’s now looking very much open to question is whether, even with a compromise second banana much beloved by the right, the ticket has juice enough to power the nominee to a win.
From the expansive list of GOP presidential wannabes testing the waters this time around, Mitt Romney seemed, quite early in the process, to be the most formidable potential challenger to President Obama. Primarily because others along the way who on occasion posted decent primary numbers were thought too extreme, as conservatives go, to attract enough general election support. Romney’s albatross, like John McCain’s four years ago, has been that the more you see of him, any prior judgment that he fails to measure up only gains in certitude.
The message in all of this being that proponents may well be miscalculating the allure of conservative extremism. Bush, when he won (with an asterisk) in 2000, was marketed as a “compassionate conservative,” whatever that means. (And hadn’t a narcissistic Ralph Nader stunk up the joint in Florida, persisting with that idiotic candidacy, we would have been spared finding out that “compassion” included committing the country to an unnecessary, costly Iraq war.) Now the Romney-Ryan tandem and the tacticians at mission control are again trying to sell the electorate on an ultra-conservative path to nirvana. It’s a hard sell.
PBS analyst Mark Shields reflects the assessment of many when he points out that in the midst of economic woes the country is still struggling to overcome, Romney should have started out of the box a good 10 points ahead of Obama in the polls. The fact that Obama has been tied or slightly leading so much of the way has been a dead giveaway as to the limits of the GOP nominee’s appeal. To compound matters, the addition of Ryan to the ticket may have induced some excitement in their base, but it certainly hasn’t been the magic bullet mission control was hoping for, that fundamentally changed the dynamics of the race. Ryan too, it turns out, is one whom the glare of non-stop spotlights reveals to be well shy of what his billing suggests.
Romney and his advisers have evidently thought it enough to keep rattling off the line that the president “doesn’t know what he’s doing” about the economy and everything else. That it hasn’t worked so far seems obvious to all but Romney and his people. So that the need to get specific about how he is better equipped to do what Obama can’t, is lost on him, apparently. The upshot of which is his continuing to throw up some vague solution outlines for the economy that seem to connect with none but hard-core supporters.
Quite mystifyingly, Romney also appears clueless that, given his situation, adding an overlay of hubris is anathema. But there’s been hubris in spades, in his obstinate stance about releasing tax returns (his wife a robustly willing fellow gladiator there), in implying he’s under no obligation to give details of plans for economic recovery, in trying to dictate what policy matters media folk should and shouldn’t raise…And if the rest of us think there’s something conspicuously unreal about Romney practically delegitimizing any reference to his tenure as Massachusetts governor during this presidential run, one gets the impression he thinks that’s our problem, not his. We of course know he avoids the gubernatorial stint like the plague because he presented an alter ego to the Massachusetts people back then, similar to when he fought and lost to Ted Kennedy for his Senate seat.
Romney, we’ve come to realize, is comfortable being indifferent to the idea that offering himself for national office brings with it certain responsibilities to the people he says he is ready to lead. As a result of which, not surprisingly, his campaign has begun to take on the appearance of a not-too-successful road show. And in light of all of that, he surely didn’t need an additional nightmare like the bust his party’s convention turned out to be. If not before, the writing had to at least begin appearing on the wall when the convention aftermath’s biggest talking point was how much of a sad spectacle Clint Eastwood had made of himself. Talk about clueless! Romney was reportedly laughing it up while waiting in the wings during Eastwood’s meltdown.
The smart betting says the country’s mind is just about made up about Romney, that no injection of SuperPAC money from Karl Rove or any other source will materially change the configuration. There remain the debates, of course. But barring infinitely long odds of President Obama deciding to take a snooze when these jousts get going, or some ill-timed happening completely laying waste to the natural progression of events, our expectation here is that Romney is fixing to get himself soundly thrashed come November.