When the alleged presidential front-runner of the allegedly ascendant political party takes his first formal step towards candidacy, and pretty much everybody either yawns or jeers, it is clearly not a good sign for the politician in question. And in general, I can’t recall a presidential “front-runner” who’s been written off as a hopeless loser long before the contest begins by about half the political cognoscenti.
But that’s where we are with Mitt Romney. In a piece designed to be studiously neutral, and the first of a series outlining the strategies of the leading GOP candidates, Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post goes through the case for Romney’s nomination methodically: he’s got the obsessive economic message the country’s waiting for; he’s got two early caucus and primary states he ought to win; and he’s got money out the wazoo. Then Chris gets to the “hurdle” part of his analysis, and pretty much says he doesn’t think Romney has a clue about how to overcome it:
Today marks the five-year anniversary of his signing of a health care bill in Massachusetts that has drawn unfavorable comparisons among conservatives to the law pushed by President Obama last year.
Romney, to date, has given little indication of how he will clear this hurdle; he never mentioned health care in his announcement video on Monday, for example….
Romney allies also insist that the idea that a single issue will bring down his candidacy ignores the recent history of nomination fights, noting that Sen John McCain’s embrace of comprehensive immigration reform didn’t foreclose his chances in 2008. (Of course, only when McCain abandoned any talk of immigration reform did he begin his political comeback.)
What’s clear is that whether or not Romney wants to talk about health care, his primary opponents are going to do their damndest to make it issue number one for him.
Over at the Daily Beast, long-time Republican operative Mark McKinnon didn’t bother to attempt neutrality:
[W]hy is it that with the announcement of his exploratory committee today there seemed to be a huge collective yawn? And the refrain from most people, including me, “What, I thought he announced his exploratory committee a year ago.”
Mitt Romney is damned by timing and circumstance.
Let us ponder some of Romney’s problems:
• He is an entirely conventional candidate in an entirely unconventional time in American politics. People don’t want the Cola. They want the Un-Cola.
• He may try to make the moves, but he sure doesn’t look or sound like a Tea Party candidate. And the more he makes the moves, the more he looks like the human pretzel he became in 2008, when he contorted himself to try to please the right wing of the party.
• The No. 1 issue for Republicans in 2012 is going to be President Obama’s health-care law. And Romney is already wrapping himself around the axle trying to explain how the health plan he engineered in Massachusetts is substantially different than Obama’s. And how is this for irony: Romney announced his exploratory committee on the fifth anniversary of “Romneycare.”
• Nobody really thinks or talks about Romney as the prohibitive favorite he ought to be.
Whatever else it means, this insider attitude guarantees that Romney is going to be operating without a net once the campaign is under way. With the entire political world impatiently waiting for his inevitable demise so that the “real” campaign can get under way, every mistake the man makes is going to get exaggerated in the hope that he will see the light and stop taking up space.
I do know people who think Mitt will win the nomination, but only because they rate the GOP field as so bad and chaotic that Romney will probably wind up in one-on-one competition with someone blatantly unelectable (e.g., Michele Bachmann) or incapable of rubbing two nickels together (e.g., Mike Huckabee). In other words, Romney’s a loser unless he’s facing an even bigger loser than he is.
From the perspective of the Invisible Primary of elite opinion, it’s not the sort of atmosphere that makes you hear faint but unmistakable strains of “Hail to the Chief” when Romney enters the room.