Balz: “it is difficult to sum up exactly what [Romney’s] candidacy is based upon and exactly who [Romney] is”
“I received a message this week from a conservative who has been following the Republican presidential race closely,” writes Dan Balz for Wapo’s The Trail in a post titled Romney Must Prove He’s the Genuine Article.
He offered a telling observation, which in paraphrase went as follows: the more he sees of Mitt Romney, the less he likes him.
Funny. We feel the same way.
I was particularly struck by that comment in part because of something Romney’s politically savvy media adviser, Alex Castellanos, said to me several months ago, the essence of which was: when you putt Mitt Romney on television, good things happen.
Both may be right in their observations — the first is obviously a statement of personal taste and not reflective of the population at large, while the second may be grounded in evidence that the former Massachusetts governor is able to change attitudes with a barrage of television ads. But it’s also possible that my correspondent may be on to something, in which case Romney could have a problem on his hands …
… since Labor Day, [Romney’s] debate performances have been uneven — neither dominating nor disastrous. Rather than standing out from the crowd, he has been just one of many voices on a crowded stage. In none of the past three debates has he been judged as well as he was when he was making his debut as a national candidate.
There is a point beyond which being polished looks merely slick, where preparation begins to sound canned and corny. Romney has had moments recently that seem to have crossed that invisible line.
Here’s just one. Last weekend, he spoke at the Family Research Council’s Values Voters summit. This was an audience of religious and social conservatives — many of whom may be hesitant to support Romney because he is a Mormon. One can argue whether anyone’s religion should be in any way disqualifying in a presidential campaign, but the Romney team knows this is an issue of some concern.
Rather than addressing the issue directly, Romney tried to use humor. “I imagine that one or two of you have heard I’m a Mormon,” he said. “I understand that some people think they couldn’t support someone of my faith. But I think that’s just because they’ve listened to Harry Reid.”
He was referring to the Senate Democratic leader, of course, who also is a Mormon. And while he drew some laughs from the audience, it was an inelegant attempt to raise and then dodge an issue that continues to dog his presidential aspirations.
That may be a small issue. What should concern the Romney team more is that, after millions of dollars of television and months and months of campaigning, the candidate has not been able to shake off the flip-flop label. It remains a staple of coverage of his campaign — unfairly according to his advisers — as well as part of the standard attack line now coming from his opponents.
Romney freely admits he has changed some of his views, particularly those on abortion. Many politicians have done the same. Still, there are doubts about his core convictions that his rivals are poised to exploit heading into Iowa and New Hampshire early next year.
In part Romney’s challenge is to articulate a bigger message than sweeps some of these issues to the side. He has had many messages throughout the year — competence, freshness, conservatism, a three-legged stool. Lately, because of the jumbled nature of the Republican race, he has been focused on persuading Republicans he is the true conservative.
But it is difficult to sum up exactly what his candidacy is based upon and exactly who he is. That’s not the case for Giuliani … etc., etc.
The emphases are ours, all ours.
A consensus is emerging, dear readers: no one knows who Romney really is. Here is but a small sample of the emerging WHO ON EARTH IS ROMNEY, AND WHY DOES THIS SHAPE-SHIFTING NON-ENTITY WANT TO BE OUR PRESIDENT literature:
- Boyd on Romney: “I have no idea how we are supposed to figure out what [Romney truly believes] based on the available information about [Romney]”—how Romney’s ideological cross-dressing, and his flat refusal to address it, baffles voters and analysts alike
- Liza: Romney is a passionate advocate of each new stance he takes
- Ruffini: “Romney has done to himself what the Bush campaign did to John Kerry”
Of course, we’ve been harping on this string for months, because it’s a question we’ve been asking for months. Hence the name of our web log: Who is Willard Milton Romney?—are we any closer to an answer? Well, sadly, no.
We can hardly wait for Ms. Ann Marie Curling to rebut Balz the way she did Ruffini!—see: