Thursday, March 15, 2012

This Is Their 'Most Electable' Candidate?

Ok, here's to jumping right back in...

During the early stages of the Republican presidential primary, I was, like many Obama supporters, rooting for "anyone but Romney." I pulled for Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and most recently Rick Santorum. I agreed with the general zeitgeist that Mitt Romney was the most electable of all the GOP candidates in a general election.

I no longer think this is true. This really has been a bruising primary for the GOP, quite unlike the Democratic primary of 2008, which I think made Obama a better candidate and helped build his national campaign organization. At this point, I think even Republicans are sick of or bored with Mitt Romney. I was surprised to see polls showing that Obama already enjoys an "enthusiasm gap" over all three of the leading GOP candidates. They've been campaigning for months (while Obama's been presiding over a sluggish economy), yet Obama's supporters are still the ones who are more excited about the coming election. That doesn't demonstrate a Republican Party confident about unseating an incumbent president.

But the main reason I'm less impressed with presumptive nominee Romney? He has turned out to be even more awkward and out of touch with ordinary people than I had expected. Granted, it has been part of Team Obama's strategy to play this up. (Remember when Obama campaign staffers talked about attacking Romney for being "weird?") But it doesn't exactly take a political genius to identify the weirdness in Romney.

Here's a quick highlight reel:
  • Pretending to be pinched on the butt by women in crowds? Check.
  • Strapping his dog to the roof of the car for an hours long highway trip? Check.
  • Driving on despite the dog's diarrhea running down the back window? Check.
  • Proudly declaring, "Corporations are people, my friend!" Check.
  • Calling himself "unemployed" while talking to people who really are? Check.
  • Making fun of people for wearing ponchos in the rain? Check. (Maybe he'd never seen one.)
  • Generally acting like a man who's lived isolated from the world in a sanitized bubble of richness? Check, check, check. (That last link has a fairly exhaustive slide show of awkward Mitt moments; the "Who Let the Dogs Out" clip might take the prize.)
The Republicans are about to nominate Mr. Wall Street himself in an age that gave rise to Occupy Wall Street. Wrong guy. Wrong year.

Now I think that the importance of personality and individuals in politics is usually overestimated. Bigger forces are at work. Economics, demographics, and social movements are like shifting tectonic plates beneath the electoral landscape. Good candidates have lost, and bad candidates have won for reasons much bigger than whether or not someone is "weird." But in a close election, little things can tip the balance. The weirdness of Mitt may be one of those things.

That's all I've got for now. More to come about the Republican primary and how I see the general election shaping up, so stay tuned.