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If Mitt Romney Can't Best Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, How Will He Face Down Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

It must be hard to be Mitt Romney these days. The former Massachusetts governor and struggling Republican presidential candidate has now committed the inexcusable gaffe of delivering a campaign speech to a mostly empty Detroit stadium. (Apparently, no one told Romney’s managers the first rule of event planning: always fill the venue.) More generally, for most of the past year, the Republican Party has been canvassing the rest of the political field, cycling through clown after womanizer after adulterer after Catholic fundamentalist, all in a desperate attempt not to nominate Romney for president. On a personal level—deep down, in his heart of hearts—that has got to hurt. More importantly, it reveals an uncomfortable truth about the onetime “front-runner” for the GOP: Mitt Romney is just not that good at politicking.

First of all, this is a man who governed Massachusetts from the center for four years, then tried to run for the Republican presidential nomination less than a year after leaving office. The health care reform he introduced in the Bay State, distinguishable from “Obamacare” only in that it was a state-level rather than a federal policy, is the most glaring example. He sounded some pro-choice notes both in campaigning for the Massachusetts governorship and when he actually governed the state. After losing the GOP nomination in 2008, Romney supported the idea of government stimulus to goose the economy in early 2009, but claimed to oppose President Obama’s stimulus package.

With a record this shaky, one would think Romney would at least exercise sounder judgment in his public statements during the campaign. Instead, he’s made one blunder after another. This is the man who said in a campaign debate last fall that he objected to the hiring of illegal immigrants by his landscaper by saying, “I’m running for public office, for Pete’s sake; I can’t have illegals.” This, of course, suggested that were he not running for president, he would have had no problem hiring such workers, which is about as unprincipled as it gets. Then there was his $10,000 campaign debate wager with his then-rival, Texas Governor Rick Perry, over the nature of his health care reform package. Let’s not forget his statement that he was “also unemployed” to a group of out-of-work Floridians who almost certainly lack his more than $85 million in assets to tide them over. Or, his infamous claim that “I'm not concerned about the very poor.” No list of Romney’s gaffes would be complete without his much-derided statement, “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.” 

This last example is perhaps the best proof of Romney’s political weakness. The flak he took for that last slipup was actually totally unfair, stemming from his opponents’ gross distortion of his point. He wasn’t talking about firing employees; he was talking about being a tough customer, ditching insurance companies with unsatisfactory policies and taking his business elsewhere. Who could object to that? Unfortunately, Romney’s failure to quell the furor over this flap was pathetic. A stronger candidate would have come out swinging at his tormentors, not only defending himself but also effectively using the misquotation as proof of his opponents’ dishonesty. Romney’s feeble response dropped the ball completely.

A long time ago in a political landscape far, far away — i.e. the summer of 2007, when I first learned of his existence — I thought of Mitt Romney as an impressive candidate who could possibly govern the country well. A few months into that campaign, I realized how slick he was. As it turns out, he’s often not slick enough — a function of his overall feebleness as a political candidate. It makes me wonder whether he’s substantively fit to be president.

If he can’t defend himself against the likes of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, I don’t want him facing down Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Photo Credit: roberthuffstutter

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