Tuesday, May 15, 2012

On Romney's Electability

by Gaije Kushner

After all the surprising drama of the Republican primaries, the Iowa lead shifting minute by minute between Romney and Santorum, Gingrich’s big North Carolina win, Romney’s struggles to eke out victories in Wisconsin and Ohio, the result seems to be an entirely unsurprising Romney victory. As a diehard liberal, I know I’m supposed to be concerned now, about the presumptive nominee’s alleged electability, in comparison with his opponent’s. But aside from being disappointed the festivities are over, I find myself feeling, if anything, relieved by the outcome.

Romney’s electability has always struck me as wishful, almost magical, thinking. Something his supporters hope will become true, if they just want it badly enough, assert it often enough, but lacking any basis in reality. He’s run for office four times, not including his current effort, and only won once. Yes, it’s true, he won as a Republican in the generally Democrat- leaning state of Massachusetts, but he did so by espousing Democratic positions, not by somehow winning voters over despite his conservatism. The Romney Massachusetts voted into its governor’s mansion in 2002 was pro-choice, pro-LGBT rights, pro-stem cell research. That guy’s appeal to swing voters and independents has nothing to do with the Romney currently running for president.

His electability depends on some imaginary appeal to just those voters though. Despite having espoused positions every bit as conservative as any of his rivals during the primaries, his supporters insist he’s perceived as a more moderate candidate than they would have been. Perhaps they don’t think the swing voters and independents have access to television, the internet, or the written  word. There’s really no other explanation.

Well, there’s one, but it’s almost too crazy to be believed. Throughout the primaries, Mittens tried to overcome conservatives’ skepticism about his current conservative positions. He asserted his new beliefs were deeply felt, not a matter of political expediency, not at all. Still, one friend of mine who’ll be voting for Obama anyway said she wasn’t all that worried about the prospect of a Romney White House, because she just didn’t think he really meant his current homophobic, misogynistic, generally evil, statements. So maybe Romney’s planning to try an unlikely balancing act, convincing conservatives he really, truly, shares their values, while leaving some space for swing voters and independents to maintain some skepticism.

A better candidate might have a shot at pulling something like that off. But Mittens is a truly terrible campaigner. He either doesn’t understand the differences between the world in which he lives, and the place the rest of us hang out, or he doesn’t understand why, or how much, those differences matter. He can’t seem to stop himself from making references to his fancy Nascar and football team owning friends, dismissing the $300,000 he earned in speaking fees last year as not much money, or trying to make $10,000 bets with his competitors on live television. He claims some special understanding of the economy, but he’s never experienced the economy most of us are stuck with. He may well have an excellent understanding of how to make corporations more profitable, but that benefits a relatively small pool of people. For all his insistence he knows how to create jobs, while he was governor, Massachusetts ranked 47th in job growth. Not so impressive.

Mittens’ inability to connect with people isn’t just about his vast fortunes. He endlessly refuses to acknowledge any imperfections, any cracks in his happy shiny facade. The things people need to feel that illusion of intimacy that so often wins their votes.

Ultimately, Romney’s dos and don’ts hardly matter. Presidential candidates selected for their supposed electability never win. They don’t elicit the kind of excitement necessary to push them across the finish line, the enthusiasm that gets people volunteering, making endless fund raising calls, handing over funds of their own. John Kerry comes to mind, which he rarely does these days.

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