Sunday, May 27, 2012

The continuing "meh" of Mitt Romney's "friends"

It should have been me!
In the grand scheme of things, the fact that Mitt Romney can't seem to inspire a decent endorsement from fellow Republicans is probably not going to be, on its own, that important in November. But it's become such a joke that the Romney campaign really ought to consider changing their slogan to: "Yeah, Well, At Least I'm Not Barack Obama." That would appear to be what the opinion leaders in the GOP eventually get around to saying when they offer their support to the former governor of Massachusetts.

Another example is a recent interview between former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and CNN's Candy Crowley. On the one hand, Giuliani told Crowley that Romney is "the perfect choice," at a time when the economy needs reviving. And then this:

"Well, I mean, there's a certain amount of personal ego in that — at that point, I was probably comparing his record to my record," he said about his dings at Romney. "And maybe it was circumstances or whatever, but I had massive reductions in unemployment. He had a reduction in unemployment of about 8,10 percent — I think it was 15 percent. I had a reduction of unemployment of 50 percent. He had a growth of jobs of about 40,000; we had a growth of jobs of about 500,000. So I was comparing what I thought was my far superior record to his otherwise decent record. ... That's all part of campaigning."

Giuliani then added, as if on cue, that Romney is much better than Barack Obama and that he has a better chance of winning as long as the economy doesn't improve too much, in which case, Giuliani said that "it's anyone's ballgame."

Politico called Rudy's comments a "Cory Booker performance" and that's fair. Booker, as a surrogate for Obama, said he thought the Obama attacks on Bain Capital were disgusting, which is a bit of a problem when that is to be the centrepiece of characterizing Romney as a bad choice for the White House.

But how is it not equally damaging when America's Republican mayor states that Romney isn't very good at the one thing, job creation, around which Romney is building his campaign? Maybe we're so used to Republicans trashing Romney or damning him with faint praise that we aren't paying any attention anymore.

And there's the point. The bar is that low for Romney. No one, not even those who are supposed to, can muster any enthusiasm.

Is that going to matter? I don't know. I think political campaigns can be seen as countless individual moments involving supporters and would-be supporters. Enthusiasm for a candidate, or lack thereof, has a cumulative effect on the outcome. It's in those hallway conversations, telephone calls, cocktail party discussions, coffee shop chats, water cooler philosophizing, etc. In politics as in life, enthusiasm counts and Romney's founding myth, story, resume, personality, demeanour don't inspire affection, just the opposite. And whatever respect there is is grudging.

One can look back on the history of the presidency and surely find instances where this kind of thing has not mattered. I'm simply wondering if the super-charged cult of personality that now defines the presidency, the 24-hour news cycle, new media, and politics-as-reality-show assumptions have changed the rules of the game.

We may have become used to Romney's friends trashing him with faint praise. Now we have to figure out what it might mean.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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