It's clear that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will survive the GOP version of The Hunger Games and become their 2012 presidential nominee. The richest and most radical presidential candidate in modern times, Romney offers a retrograde vision for America and a surprising set of weaknesses.
Romney's a plutocrat leading a party that dogmatically promotes the interests of the 1 percent. He's admitted that his net worth is approximately "$200-and-some-odd million." (In 2010 and 2011 Romney made a total of $42 million and paid less than 14 percent in taxes.) Of course, wealth alone does not determine political philosophy -- FDR and JFK were wealthy -- but Romney's actions indicate he has swallowed the radical conservative ethos that defines contemporary Republican politics.
Before serving one term as governor, Romney was a vulture capitalist. He made his money running a subsidiary of Bain Capital, whose "modus operandi was to invest in companies, leverage them up with debt, and then sell them off for scrap, allowing Bain's investors to walk away with huge profits while the companies in which Bain invested wound up in bankruptcy, laying off workers and reneging on benefits." (Romney's work at Bain was attacked in a 30-minute video released by an anti-Romney Republican super PAC.)
As the 2012 Republican primaries progressed, Governor Romney's opponents tagged him as a "flip-flopper," a politician who panders to his audience. His campaign has attempted to counter this perception by having him take extreme conservative positions. On March 20th Romney embraced the radical budget proposal of Congressman Paul Ryan. (Ryan then endorsed Romney.) Romney lauded Ryan "for taking a bold step toward putting our nation back on the track to fiscal sanity." (This is a budget that cuts Medicare and Medicaid and further erodes the American middle class.)
Romney has prevailed by running negative ads against his opponents. (When it appeared that Newt Gingrich would be Romney's main opponent, the governor defeated him in Florida by deluging Gingrich with attack ads -- Romney outspent Gingrich by $12 million.) This tactic has eroded his popularity with Republican voters. The latest Gallup Poll indicates that there has been a sharp drop off in enthusiasm for Romney: from 56 percent in January to 43 percent in March.
While Governor Romney will win the GOP nomination, he is far from a party favorite. He has seldom garnered more than 40 percent of the votes in any primary and has only 40 percent of support in the latest Gallup tracking poll of Republican voters. There are three reasons for this conspicuous lack of enthusiasm.
The first is his record of flip-flopping on major issues. Romney began his political career as pro-choice but switched positions in 2007 and adopted the conservative stance. At the beginning of his career Romney supported gay rights but in 2005 he stated his opposition to gay marriage and civil unions. Romney once believed in man-made global warming and taking remedial action but has backtracked and now "is not certain to the extent that man is causing the change in the environment." It's difficult to find any issue where Romney hasn't reversed his stance and, when challenged on these reversals, his responses have been disingenuous.
Second, the social conservative wing of the GOP doesn't trust Romney because of his pandering and the fact he's a Mormon. In a June 2011 Gallup Poll, 20 percent of Republicans and Independents indicated they would not support a Mormon for president. A December Pew Research poll examining Republican voter attitudes about the candidates found "high negatives for Romney among white evangelicals."
The third reason there is antipathy towards Romney is perception that he's aloof and condescending. Journalist R.B. Scott, a fellow Mormon, wrote about the governor: "His inability to empathize with common folk had long been his hoary hoodoo." When questioned on the Today Show about growing concern about US economic inequality, Romney responded: "I think [this concern is] about envy. I think it's about class warfare." And, he's been aloof on the campaign trail:
Romney avoids the press (and most direct, unscripted human contact) almost pathologically... His campaign is also notoriously unwilling to speak to journalists for articles, or even to provide answers to seemingly straightforward questions.
Nonetheless, Mitt Romney is the perfect Republican candidate: a straight, religious, white man who is rich and can self-fund his campaign. And Romney shares a common Republican personality defect: he doesn't empathize with average Americans.
During the coming presidential contest, Republicans will emphasize Romney's business experience and wealth; they'll claim that he's the right man to revitalize the economy. They're dead wrong.
Romney knows how to close businesses, but not how to create jobs. He knows how to make money for himself, but not for his employees. Like most Republicans, Mitt Romney doesn't understand that the economy only thrives when it provides a decent living for all of us -- the 99 percent as well as the 1 percent.