COMMENTARY Mitt Romney's got to be feeling pretty low right now. No matter how much he spends and how many years he fights to win the Republican presidential nomination, he seems to be the perpetual "We'll take him if nobody better comes along" candidate.
Sure, he's steadily in the low 20 percent range in national polls, but the reason why we keep seeing big spikes from other candidates is because most Republicans don't feel comfortable with Romney. They'll give him the nomination if they have to, but they're desperately looking for someone better to come along.
The first great hope was Rick Perry, who shot up in the polls and then shot himself repeatedly in the foot by being perhaps the worst debater in history. Then there was Mr. 9-9-9, Herman Cain, but apparent weakness in foreign affairs and possibly other types of affairs have pretty much done him in. Now Republicans are throwing old Newt Gingrich up against the wall to see if he'll stick.
And through it all, powerful right wing forces were trying their damndest to seduce New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and I don't know how many others to run, to no avail. While the GOP does seem to have quite a slate of young up-and-comers, for whatever reason, none of them are willing to try their luck in this particular race.
Like I always say, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, well, then it's probably a duck. Let's not complicate this. Romney certainly looks and acts presidential. He's rolling in dough. He's been campaigning for six years. He's got the political background for the job and the business chops for the big issue of the day, namely the economy. And yet, most folks on the right seem to be having a really hard time pulling the trigger on Romney for president in 2012.
On the surface, that's enigmatic, but if you look more closely, there are four very good reasons why Republicans simply don't like Romney:
They don't think he can beat Obama. Barack Obama may be in trouble, but he's got four very big things going for him. He can raise a billion dollars, he's got the best grassroots operation in history, he's an incumbent president, and he's got a Steve Jobs-like reality distortion field when he's in campaign mode. This is the guy who came out of nowhere in 2008; he can do it again if the.
He lost to McCain in 2008. Sure, he's come a long way since then, but nobody has forgotten that this is the guy who, with more money than God, lost to Mr. Charisma, John McCain, who then got creamed by Obama. It's simple math: If 'a' is greater than 'b,' and 'b' is greater then 'c,' then 'a' is greater than 'c,' right? In case you don't have the decoder ring, 'a' is Obama, 'b' is McCain, and 'c' is Romney.
He's too smooth. A lot of republicans won't admit this, but, they figured he's the boss so let's get behind him and see if he can't fix the mess we're in. In other words, they tried their best to be optimistic. Well, in their eyes, that didn't turn out so well. And since Romney is charismatic and smooth, promising all the right things -- not unlike our incumbent president -- they're probably wondering if this isn't like The Who song Won't Get Fooled Again: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."
They don't trust his ideals. Idealistically he seems to blow with the wind. He's been accused of flip-flopping on core issues like health care, climate change, and abortion rights, prompting former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman to say, "You can't be a perfectly lubricated weather vane on the important issues of the day." And while Romney relates his private sector experience to job creation, the truth is that management consulting and private equity firms aren't really in the business of creating jobs. So it's easy to see how some people just don't think he's genuine.
This is usually the point where half my readers (guess which half) tell me to stick to business and stay out of politics. Well, here's what I always tell them: The two are inextricably intertwined, especially these days, and leaders are leaders, in business and in politics. Deal with it.
Update 11/30/11 7:30 am: clarified ninth paragraph.