By all rights, the Republican presidential candidate should have a lot of wind at his back in 2012.
- President Obama's economic policies brought an end to the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression and have now yielded 25 straight months of private sector jobs growth. But many Americans are still out of work.
- The far right has been energized by passage of President Obama's legislative agenda: health care reform, the equal pay for equal work, ending Don't Ask-Don't Tell, Wall Street reform. They hate these policies and they are highly motivated to stop the President's re-election.
- The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision has allowed a flood of corporate and right wing money that should allow the right to out-communicate the President's campaign for re-election.
Instead, Mitt Romney is struggling. There are many factors:
- President Obama's well organized, highly disciplined campaign;
- A bloody Republican primary season;
- The high regard in which most Americans hold the President -- last week's ABC News poll showed 56% regard him favorably while only 40% regard him unfavorably.
But Mitt Romney's biggest enemy is Mitt Romney.
That same ABC News poll showed Romney is the first major Presidential candidate in modern history to be "underwater" in his favorables. Only 35% of Americans regard him favorably, while 47% regard him unfavorably.
Why does Romney have such a "Romney problem"?
People are not just reacting negatively to the "public persona" of Romney. There is no evidence the Romney campaign simply needs to do a better job getting to know the "real Romney."
In fact, it appears that the more people to know him, the less they like him. A February Washington Post poll showed that 52% of Americans responded that the more they know about Romney the less they like him. The same was true for 39% of Republicans. That trend seems to be continuing.
No, the problem is not that they aren't getting to know the "real Romney." The problem is the "real Romney."
In elections -- and especially highly publicized Presidential elections -- voters do not fundamentally make choices between two sets of issues positions, or economic policies. They make a choice about who should be their leader. They choose between living, breathing human beings.
They ask themselves two major sets of questions:
1.) Which of these candidates is the most likely to make decisions that make my life better -- and the lives of my kids and grand kids -- and future of our country? Who do I want our leader to be in this moment, to address the problems and challenges that I think matter?
There are a whole set of factors that enter into that calculation:
- Who is really on my side?
- Who has strong core values that drive decisions?
- Who would be a strong, effective leader?
- Who do I like and connect with emotionally?
- Who respects me?
- Who has self-confidence?
- Who has personal integrity?
- Who has a vision for where he or she wants to take the country?
- Who inspires me? Who makes me feel I am part of something important that is larger than myself, and can personally play a significant role in making that important thing a reality?
Right now, Romney comes up short on every one of those parameters when swing voters compare him with President Obama.
2.) Is it worth my time and effort get involved in the campaign or to go out and vote?
Hard to argue that Romney inspires people to get involved or to vote.
The first set of these factors determines how swing voters who always go to the polls will cast their ballot. The second, whether or not low-propensity voters actually show up at the polls. Together, the decisions voters make answering these questions will decide the outcome of the election.
Mitt Romney has three personal qualities that make it especially hard for him with swing voters -- and simultaneously limit his ability to motivate low-propensity, Republican-leaning voters to get involved or go to the polls.
First, Romney appears to have no core values except his own personal success. He is the "etch-a-sketch" candidate who has historically changed his positions anytime he thinks it will allow him to win an election.
A candidate's failure to hold strong core values is an independent variable -- a big negative with swing voters regardless of the positions he now holds. In 2004, Karl Rove successfully convinced swing voters that John Kerry -- who actually had strong core values -- was a "flip-flopper" and a "phony." That -- more than any other factor -- cost him the election.
Of course, we've already seen in the primaries that Romney's lack of core convictions also troubles his right wing base that prizes passionate commitment to their cause. Republican social conservatives have been dragged kicking and screaming to the Romney-led Republican Party.
But in Romney's case, his lack of core values is also terrifying to crucial blocks of swing voters like women and Hispanics. That's because people who have no core values are happy to sell their political soul to the highest bidder. Romney has made the sale -- to the far right.
He has campaigned as the most anti-immigrant candidate for President in modern American history -- promising to veto the Dream Act, and praising Arizona's SB1070 "papers please" law.
He has staked out positions in favor of the "personhood" amendment that would ban all hormonal birth control and all abortions -- including for victims of rape and incest or to save the life of a woman. He has pledged to defund Planned Parenthood.
After his performance in the primaries, does anyone seriously believe that he would stand up to the highly motivated, ideologically extreme far right Republicans in Congress who would lay in wait for any failure on his part to adhere to right wing dogma and pounce instantly?
Second, Romney is the symbolic embodiment of the Wall Street, CEO class that has siphoned off all of America's economic growth over the last three decades to the top one percent and is completely out of touch with middle class Americans.
This is not a good place to be at this moment in American history.
Romney's entire life experience has involved his work with the mainly white male denizens of corporate boardrooms and Wall Street trading floors. That makes it hard for him to understand what normal, middle class people hear when he says his wife drives two Cadillacs, or he loves firing people who provide him services, or "corporations are people too", or that he is "unemployed too," or that he relates to NASCAR -- because he knows the team owners.
Then there is his failure to disclose his tax returns when he was head of Bain Capital; the companies he loaded with debt, bled dry and then closed; and his Swiss and Cayman Islands bank accounts.
His persona as a cold, calculating CEO that views the world as numbers and graphs, not people with lives and hopes, has been amplified by stories like the infamous vacation where he tied a crate with his dog Seamus to the roof of his car for a 12-hour car trip -- and kept him there even as he hosed him down because the dog got diarrhea. Not the portrait of an empathetic guy.
And his experience as an imperious, unquestioned CEO hasn't done much for his manners either.
What normal person would make small talk by questioning the quality of the cookies someone has provided on a picnic table for a "roundtable" with voters in Pittsburgh? "Looks like they come from 7-11" or something? Maybe he's too accustomed to petit fours sprinkled with jewels.
And just imagine the wonderful representative he would make for the United States at a State Dinner in India or Indonesia. When an unfamiliar, local dish is placed before him, will he say: "Do you people really eat this stuff?" or "this drink looks like muddy water"?
Third, Romney's record producing jobs and economic growth as Massachusetts Governor was abysmal. He is not a strong effective leader.
In evaluating Romney some swing voters may be able to overlook that he doesn't appear to be "on their side" as middle class Americans -- or even that he can has no core values and would allow right wing ideologues to run amok in Congress -- if he were really good at making the economy grow.
The fact is that Mitt Romney's economic prescription for America is more of the same poison that caused the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression: deregulation of the speculators on Wall Street, more tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and the vain hope that some of their prosperity will trickle down to the rest of us.
But the argument that he would be ineffective at creating jobs as President does not simply rest on the past failure of the policies he proposes -- but on his own record as Massachusetts Governor.
The one time he was in public office he failed miserably. His most significant achievement in public office was the "RommeyCare" health care reform that was in may ways the basis for ObamaCare, which he has pledge to repeal. But as far as job creation is concerned, Massachusetts fell to 47th in the country when he was at the helm.
In 1988, Michael Dukakis was 17% ahead of the first President Bush after the Democratic Convention. Then the Republicans ran a campaign focused entirely on convincing swing voters that as Governor of Massachusetts he showed he was not on their side, and was an ineffective leader. Their tag line: "Now he wants to do to America what he did in Massachusetts... American can't afford that risk."
Romney has exactly the same problem in 2012. Americans are not happy with the current state of the economy, but they believe that it has begun to get some traction. They have begun to feel like the guy trying to push his car out of a snow bank: as the wheels keep spinning, things look hopeless. When they finally begin to get a little traction, his attitude changes. There is finally hope.
Especially if moderate economic growth continues, middle class voters will have a hard time being convinced that they should trade that kind of hope for a multi-millionaire who failed to create jobs when he had the chance as Massachusetts Governor and is completely out of touch with ordinary Americans.
That doesn't mean it won't be a close election. The flood of big money, the incomplete economic recovery, and the right's passionate hatred for the President will keep the Republicans in the hunt until the very end.
But if we work hard -- if we leave no stone unturned -- Democrats have a solid chance to win and take back the political initiative in American politics this fall. Could be that one of our chief allies in doing so is Mitt Romney.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.