Newt was right. Back during the primary campaign Newt Gingrich started to attack Romney about his time at Bain Capital, the methods the company used, his out sourcing and off shore holdings. It was working too — until Rush Limbaugh and the Republican establishment told Newt to back off. Making hundreds of millions of dollars is a good capitalist thing to do!
Newt protested that the Democrats would use these attacks in the fall and it was good for Mitt to have to face them early. Primaries test candidates and see if they can handle the harshest attacks; pulling punches in primary season actually does more harm than good. But the criticism hurt Newt and he dropped the Bain attacks. Most people figured that Romney could easily deflect such criticism by wrapping himself in the free market veneer of “being a good capitalist and making money.”
Yet as the campaign trudges on, Romney’s woes grow. To be sure, he still polls even with the President and if the economy stays in the doldrums even Alfred E. Newman could have a shot to defeat Obama. Economic factors more than anything else shape elections, justly or unjustly. But elections are never just referendums on a President, but a choice between two candidates. So far, Romney is proving to be a weak candidate.
Consider Romney’s taxes. Despite numerous demands from within the GOP for Mitt to release his taxes f or the last ten or fifteen years, he refuses. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tells the Huffington Post that a Bain capital investor confided with him that Romney paid no taxes for ten years. Reid admits he has no way of knowing if this is true, but absent his returns it remains possible. The Democrats can continue to make such suggestions, and if Romney remains secretive most people will assume he has something to hide.
The Bain issue remains as well. Despite vehement protests against an Obama advisor saying Romney may have committed a felony, it increasingly looks like the advisor was correct — Romney did not end his tenure at Bain capital in 1999. He’s not going to be arrested but that just adds to a narrative that Romney is secretive, dishonest, and part of a greedy wealthy elite who want to institutionalize advantage for themselves.
The Romney campaign hoped to change the story line with a trip abroad to countries considered most friendly to a Romney Presidency: a conservative led Great Britain, Israel and socially conservative Poland. Romney hoped to appear Presidential and a natural for the job.
Instead it was an almost comical farce, with even conservative pundits like Charles Krauthammer expressing exasperation over his miscues. He looked decidedly un-Presidential, gaffe prone and small. Mocked in Great Britain, seen as pandering in Israel and repudiated by Solidarity in Poland for his anti-union stances, Romney’s trip has been called a disaster by Republicans and Democrats alike. The good news for Romney is that foibles abroad are one of the last things voters take into account.
President Obama had a July 2008 trip abroad that went off far more impressively than Romney’s. Unlike Romney he visited a large variety of countries in the Mideast and Europe. It didn’t do much for Obama at home – his numbers were dropping even as he was sailing high overseas. Still, Obama’s was an audacious sweeping trip meeting numerous world leaders and going to places he might not be popular. Romney’s was tepid and short – and nonetheless disastrous. The trip itself may not hurt him, but feeds into an image of the candidate that may be impossible to overcome.
Romney’s summer troubles mean that he’ll emerge from the pre-convention phase more defined by Obama and the media than by himself. Efforts to define Obama as a failed desperate President, not up to the job and a tad strange at that, haven’t caught on. People know Obama much more than they know Romney, and generally people like him despite the attacks from the far right. That doesn’t mean they support his re-election, but they’re not buying the “failed Presidency” line from the GOP. People realize the economic crisis is global and arrived before Obama was elected.
The core of the problem for Romney is captured by the Newsweek cover – Romney appears insecure and secretive. A confident candidate would embrace the tradition started by George Romney (Mitt’s dad) who did the unprecedented and released years of taxes when he ran for the Presidency while saying every candidate should do so. Instead the campaign growls that bringing up Mitt’s dad in a “personal attack” should be condemned. Except it’s not a personal attack, it’s a call for Mitt to do as his father did!
A secure candidate would explain and defend his record, rather than feign ignorance of what he did for Bain after he supposedly left in 1999. A secure candidate wouldn’t whine that the media isn’t paying attention to issues he thinks important in the campaign but recognize that in choosing a President we’re choosing a person, not just a set of political positions. A secure candidate would realize that he has to convince the American people he is worthy of leading the country, not only that he’s a competent businessman who understands economics. This election is not just a referendum on Obama, it’s a choice.
Many Republicans want 2012 to be like 1980 when Jimmy Carter was whooshed out of office after one term. They recall how easily Ronald Reagan defeated the President. But it almost wasn’t that way. Carter was close or even led in polls until near the end. The people sized up Ronald Reagan before they choose him, they didn’t just vote out Carter. Romney’s challenge is to make a convincing argument that he should be chosen to lead.
So far he’s off to a poor start. He can’t just rely on money and attacks like he did in the primaries. He has to step up and convince the American people he’s honest, understands their plight, and can be trusted with the office of the Presidency. He has less than 100 days to do it. To start he has to release his taxes, explain what happened at Bain, be up front about off shore accounts and his finances, and show the country that he’s not a secretive, manipulative empty suit with an edge-a-sketch approach to winning votes. If he can’t do that, he doesn’t deserve the Presidency.