Mitt Romney began his presidential campaign in an enviable position. Amid a weak field of other Republican candidates, Romney enjoyed consistently high polling numbers while being figured by the media as one of the only “serious” contenders for nomination. With the continuing litany of gaffes from Texas Gov. Rick Perry seeming to doom his potential “white knight” bid, and with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announcing that he has no intention of pursuing the presidency, Romney has endured.
Romney’s eligibility has never been in serious doubt. He has held all the right offices. He enjoys national name recognition, courtesy, for the most part, of a failed presidential run in 2008. To the GOP base, he is a reliable, safe conservative, but not outrageously conservative ala Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn). To the moneyed king-makers, Romney represents a business-friendly choice. To the rest of us, at least he looks “presidential.” Amid a relatively weak field, Romney represents an ideal choice.
In light of the weak competition, this is damning him with faint praise. Perry was supposed to be the Texan Romney, promising both conservative ideals and corporate appeal, but he squandered much of his initial support due to some inexplicably callous missteps. The likes of Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, and Jon Huntsman did little to distinguish themselves either through campaign incompetence or public skepticism. Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich may be enjoying a post-Florida bump but it is likely that the Florida poll was a fluke (and who believes straw polls anyway?). Bachmann’s campaign has all but collapsed.
The field is clear for Romney and he knows it.
At times, it seems that Romney has not even begun to campaign. He did not really seem intent on wasting his time, energy, and money on campaigning at this early stage until Perry appeared. But now that his greatest competitor is fading, Romney can continue his masterly inactivity and conserve his strength for the real fight against President Barack Obama.
There still is, however, a chance for Romney to stumble. His close ties to big business and implementation of Massachusetts’s statewide health insurance were initially seen as potential stumbling blocks. They still could be. His competitors have, thus far, preferred to snipe away at each other rather than gun for Romney. Should he ever be confronted on either, blithering and indecision could be disastrous. Best, for now, to sit tight and read from the carefully crafted script.
But perhaps his greatest challenge will come from his greatest initial asset — political fame. A recent Pew survey has shown that the public’s trust in government has sunk to one of its lowest levels in half a century. Romney has always been a member of the establishment, with widespread ties to the increasingly stratified elite. While populism has been a marginal, if vocal, movement in this country’s contemporary politics, it threatens, with the right catalyst, to explode into a viable, coherent movement.
Should that happen, he of the slick hair and corporate-friendly attitude may find himself quite adrift.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore