Washington’s definition of a political genius: anyone who has never sought or won a single political office. This, for the moment at least, also appears to be Mitt Romney’s definition. It will be his undoing.
I have never met Romney, but apparently he is, by almost all accounts, a smart person. He understands America’s economy. He means well. He has been far more successful in his lifetime than most of his critics. He runs against a president who has had far less experience with the private sector, manages a wobbly economy, and who even now scratches and scrapes his way to 50 percent support in the polls. Yet the press and punditry, especially on the right, tell Romney that it is he, and not the president, who is in political trouble. We pundits are mad when Romney doesn’t listen to us, and then we grump when he does.
Governor, please tell us all to shut up. Or better yet, stop listening to us altogether. We will destroy your candidacy.
Reacting this week to the Supreme Court’s Obamacare decision, the Romney campaign initially parted company with Chief Justice John Roberts’s unusual contention that the massive health-care plan was the constitutional equivalent of a “tax” on the American people. Romney’s principled stance, shared by a number of conservative legal scholars—including, incidentally, four justices on the Supreme Court—lasted about as long as it took grouchy pundits (yours truly among them) to complain that Romney’s position was undermining the rest of the Republican Party. To solve his (latest) problem with his own party, Romney suddenly “etch-a-sketched” his position to something else.
Days, if not hours, later, the Tweeter from Oz, Rupert Murdoch, an alleged one-time Rick Santorum supporter, blasted Gov. Romney for failing to bring, yes, even more consultants onto his consultant-heavy, PowerPoint-driven campaign. In short order, the distinguished editorial pages of Murdoch’s own Wall Street Journal echoed that line—faulting the Romney campaign’s “insular staff and strategy that are slowly squandering an historic opportunity.” Pundits on Fox News followed suit.
So Romney reversed course again, vowing “to fortify his communications and messaging team by adding seasoned operatives.” Let’s hope Romney hires the “seasoned operatives” his critics undoubtedly have in mind—a group of GOP insiders that undoubtedly includes the geniuses who brought us the Dole and McCain campaigns. These folks, by the way, will be the first to pull a George Costanza if Romney’s poll numbers tank, pushing old ladies and children out of their way to run to safety.
We can go on and on, or back and forth, or up and down, with this. Not long ago, the Romney campaign leaked that Sen. Marco Rubio was not being vetted for the vice presidency. Then, after a brief outcry from some conservatives, Romney announced that Rubio was being vetted after all. Why should Romney have to vet a vice-presidential candidate the punditry demands? He ought to choose from people he is most comfortable with and knows well. In a number of presidential elections, we have seen the inherent dangers of picking as running mates untested “superstars” advocated by Washington’s political bigmouths who are then thrust into a blazing national spotlight.
Yet these are the mysteries of the Romney campaign. A candidate who in his career has changed his position on almost every conceivable important political issue, from abortion to health care to gay rights, only now worries that he might be branded a flip-flopper. And then flips and flops twice in one week. This, of course, is what his primary opponents warned all along about Romney. That he had a résumé, not an ideology. That he was a placater, not a president. That because of his history as a political chameleon, he will be haunted throughout the campaign by unforced errors to explain his various shifts: the weak evasions to questions, the odd explanations, the bizarrely unnecessary misstatements. That he will suffer endless reversals to appease those in his party who do not trust him and will never trust him. All of these maneuvers will be encouraged by a savvy Obama campaign. All of them are distractions from his central message—whatever that is today.
To understand just how bad it is, name a single controversial political position Romney has taken in his career that he has stuck to, regardless of the political consequences, regardless of the criticism he’s received. Anyone?
In the Bizarro World in which Mitt Romney one day asks me for my advice about his campaign, it would simply be this: don’t take it. Keep the team you have in place or fire them all. Change your views on health-care policy or don’t. But for your own sake, stop listening to us. We’re only making things worse.