As I watch the ongoing fight for the Republican nomination from across the Atlantic, I find myself wondering: has there ever been a worse presidential candidate than Mitt Romney?
Let me be clear, I am not criticizing Romney-the-potential-president (I happen to think he would do a perfectly decent job). I am criticizing Romney-the-candidate, especially his failure to capitalize on the near-perfect conditions for his run for the White House. Every time he seems to have finally broken through, there is another rejection of his candidacy from the Republican electorate. In theory, Romney should have wrapped up the GOP nomination with minimum fuss, as circumstances contrived to put him in what should have been a position of supreme strength. Here's why:
1) The timing
Pierre Trudeau, a former prime minister of Canada, said that the essential ingredient of politics is timing and 2012 should be Romney's time. Running as a successful businessman in a year when the economy and jobs are the most important issues for the majority of voters, he will never have a better chance of becoming president.
2) The competition
Has there ever been a weaker field of Republican candidates for president? Spared from going up against Republican big guns such as Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels, Romney has been fighting to be the number one heavyweight contender against a group of middleweights.
3) The crowd
What the Republican field lacked in quality it made up for in numbers. During the first six months or so of this race Romney shared the stage with seven other candidates: it was Mitt Romney and the seven dwarves. With his moderate record, Romney was always going to stand a better chance of winning the nomination in a crowded Republican field, one that splintered conservative support.
4) The money
Romney is the richest candidate ever, thanks to his Bain-boosted personal fortune. What's more, by the end of 2011, he had raised over $55 million, more than double that of any of his Republican rivals. Add to this the millions raised by pro-Romney super PACs and the former Massachusetts governor has a huge advantage in the money race. In Michigan, Romney is outspending his main challenger, Rick Santorum, by more than 40 to 1.
5) The planning
"A winning effort begins with preparation." So said Joe Gibbs and Romney has had the luxury of being able to prepare and hone his campaign infrastructure over a period of six years. As result, he has the best organization on the ground in almost all 50 states and is the only candidate in the race who has a framework in place to compete nationwide.
Sure, there have been serious presidential hopefuls in the past who have flattered to deceive -- the likes of Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Rick Perry. However, has a candidate for president ever run in circumstances as favorable as these and still made such hard work of winning his party's nomination? Perhaps experts in American political history can dredge up some names of people who match Romney in this respect, but to this fascinated foreign observer, none springs to mind.
Like all candidates Romney has his flaws. His lack of ideological backbone, enormous wealth and Mormon faith are all political liabilities. Yet his struggles seem to speak to a deeper problem. He never seems quite at ease when addressing voters and has done a poor job of defining his candidacy ("I can beat Obama" just doesn't cut it). His public missteps -- offering a $10,000 bet to Perry during a debate, saying that he is "not concerned about the very poor" -- paint a picture of a man who is out of touch with the average voter and falls firmly on the side of the 1%. It is, though, his inability to connect with voters that represents Romney's biggest flaw as a campaigner. In a country where it seems as if voters' support is based less on policy issues and more on gut feeling, this could prove fatal.
Of course, Romney could still win the nomination -- heck, he could still be the next president. However, his difficulties in the contest so far do not reflect well on him as a candidate. At the end of it all, Romney may indeed go down in history. He'll just have to hope that it is for the right reasons.