Many political commentators have referred to Mitt Romney’s lack of charisma as the reason the republicans were so reluctant to nominate him. For months they were scrambling to find an alternative to the frontrunner because he wasn’t very likeable or impressive. I have always thought this was a furphy or to put it another way, it’s just plain wrong. The reason core Republicans were so reluctant to nominate Romney is because he’s a moderate Republican who won’t deliver them the neoconservative agenda that they want. The reason he got the endorsement despite his moderate stances is because he is such an effective politician. Anyone who watched him run rings around Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ricky Perry in the primaries would know that he’s an excellent communicator, articulate, charismatic and knowledgeable, so why was he portrayed as the complete opposite?
When you go over the history books and look at American Presidential nominees that lost, history tends to judge them pretty harshly. Al Gore is quite well respected but I don’t count him because so many people felt he was the real winner of the 2000 election, but the rest of them, Mondale, Dukakis, McCain, Kerry, Dole etc, have tended to be portrayed unflatteringly. Dating back to Adlai E Stevenson, unsuccessful nominees seem to all be regarded as hopeless and pathetic, strategic blunders by the party bureaucracies. What I suspect has happened in 2012 is that commentators have been preemptively writing their commentaries through the prism of Romney losing the election and history remembering him as a hopeless loser.
As such the analysis of every Romney media event focused on its shortcomings to fit in with this overarching narrative which had been pre-emptively imposed on the Republican challenger and so long as there was no real point of reference this was feasible. But the first debate finally had Romney on show with a clear and definitive point of reference in the form of President Barrack Obama. Face to face with the President, it became impossible to deny Romney seemed an intelligent fellow, respectable and sensible, essentially the kind of guy who would make a decent president. I personally didn’t think Obama’s performance was that bad, certainly I agree that Romney won the debate but Obama held his own I thought, the reason it was such a spectacular victory for Romney is it shattered this media fiction that he is a hopeless loser.
Of course there is one glaring hole in my analysis, that is, if Romney is as effective a politician as I claim, how come he’s losing the election? My view is that this is a difficult election for the Republicans to win. Much like here in Australia, American parties generally don’t get voted out after just one term. To my knowledge Carter is the only occasion this has happened in the past century, so by taking on Obama, Romney has been competing against the tide of history. I also think the Republican Party is in terrible form at the moment, that stupid Tea Party movement is polarizing the electorate and sending moderate voters scuttling back to the Obama camp. Romney is doing well to mitigate the damage it’s doing but he’s only human. Romney also has the unenviable task of selling the Republican party to the American people who still remember the bruising experience of the Bush presidency, that can’t be easy. Finally let’s not forget that Obama is not without talent. The incumbent President cuts an image of intellect and competency that makes his predecessor look like a complete amateur. This election was always going to be a very difficult one for the Republicans to win.
So what happens next? Now the fiction of Romney’s incompetence has been dealt a severe blow I imagine we will see commentators talk about recovery and comebacks, much of the punditry will involve speculation as to whether it’s too late to turn things around. I absolutely think it’s too late to turn things around but I also don’t think there has been an actual shift in momentum, whatever that is. Obama was in the lead for reasons other than Romney and will remain in the lead for reasons other than Romney’s ability as a campaigner. Romney will continue to campaign well and struggle admirably against the tide of history and ultimately will fall short by 40 or 50 electoral college votes. And once the dust settles in fifteen years time people will look back on Romney as a hopeless, strategically inept candidate who never had a hope in hell. Oh well