Romney’s Problem in a Nutshell

August 25th, 2010 at 6:14 pm David Frum | 29 Comments |

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A friend sends this tough editorial from the Boston Globe denouncing Mitt Romney’s stance on the lower Manhattan mosque.

[Romney] has been far quieter on the issue than other potential GOP presidential candidates, leading some people to hope that he might break with the pack. But his spokesman finally came forward to say the former governor opposes the mosque on the grounds that it could be used as a recruitment tool for radicals (thereby pandering to all the falsehoods about the mosque being somehow related to 9/11) and that its presence offends some relatives of 9/11 victims. But there are plenty of relatives of 9/11 victims, among them some Muslims, who support the mosque. In any case, it’s a terrible precedent to curb freedom of religion on the grounds that other people are uncomfortable. The mere presence of Romney’s great-grandparents offended non-Mormon settlers in Utah, whose prejudices eventually drove the Romneys to seek a freer environment to practice their religion in Mexico.

Now wait a minute! Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich have enflamed the mosque into an all-out culture war. Other potential GOP presidential candidates from Tim Pawlenty to Mike Huckabee have had tough things to say about the mosque. Romney held silent, then finally joined the GOP consensus in the most elongated manner possible. Romney may not have been a profile in courage on this issue. But it’s hard to see why he deserves the special scorn of his hometown paper.

This editorial in fact sums up the Romney problem in a nutshell. By any conventional measure, here is an outstandingly qualified GOP presidential candidate. He’s proved his executive skills, he has thought long and intelligently about public policy and he articulates those views forcefully and well.

Yet when he makes the kinds of compromises that politicians sometimes have to make, he attracts unique odium. Romney has had many fewer abrupt changes of mind than, say, Newt Gingrich, who (you may recall) used to be an environmentalist, among other things. Yet Newt escapes the flip-flopper charge, because whatever view he is expressing at the moment, he expresses ferociously. There’s an old Hollywood saying, “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” Romney’s problem is that he cannot fake sincerity. When he panders, people always suspect he knows better – and they blame him for it.

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29 Comments so far ↓

  • DeepSouthPopulist

    Good for Romney. Hat’s off.

  • llbroo49

    I think David is exactly right. People become dissappointed with Romney becasue they feel he is smarter than that and knows better. Besides it is a dangerous game for him to touch any of the culture war issues as both Repbulicans and Democrats will bash him for Mormonism.

    I think our country’s greatest loss (politically) was Romney’s inability to win the Repbulican nomination for President. He may not have won, but at least we would have had two smart adults running for the Presidency.

  • Oldskool

    In his last campaign he came off as a caricature of a candidate. Too-perfect hair, too tall, too big of a smile, too nice of an appearance and he never seems to mean what he says. Like that nascar driver fans used to dislike with the perfect wife, perfect smile, etc.

  • Elvis Elvisberg

    It’s that Romney, unlike any other Republican candidate, actually has a positive record of governance… which he spends all his time demagoguing and dismissing. His pandering, his desire to be president, is just that transparent. It’s much easier to believe that Gingrich, Palin, et al are consumed by hatred for Muslims. There’s a reason to believe that Romney knows better.

  • easton

    Yep, Romney can’t pander, he can’t be down home, to show he was authentic he once drove to a bar b que in a beat up pickup, but the staffer forget to tell him to not wear a $3,000 suit. He once tried to square dance and broke 3 other dancer’s legs. They are talking about synthesizing his hair since it could stand up to the fiercest hurricanes. To illustrate how lame he is, he is as lame as these jokes.

    Seriously, if he came out as he is, he could be so much more respected.

  • llbroo49

    Both Romney and Obama were scared of being seen as too elite. Remember accusations of Obama eating arugula and his poor bowling scores? But lets face it- they are elite. How that became a bad thing, I will never know.

    In the end, Rommney just tried too hard to be what he wasn’t- when we all know what he is.

  • PracticalGirl

    David Frum’s Problem in a Nutshell:

    “Yet when he makes the kinds of compromises that politicians sometimes have to make…”

    Is pandering to the worst, most bigoted fears of the American public a compromise we want ANY politician to make? I don’t think so. We all get a bit jaded, but accepting this from any politician, and especially one who hankers for the top spot, is wrong on any level.

  • anniemargret

    He’s just another disappointing shallow politician….just flies wherever that wind takes him . What’s the difference, David Frum, if he has been a ‘good executive?’ The fact that he is a Mormon, to my mind, makes it ever the more important that he would break from the pack! He should have shown some grit and courage. He should have been the voice of reason instead of the voice of yet another Dittohead.

    So why would anyone bother voting for him against Palin/Gringrich, Pawlenty or Huckabee? (not that I would anyway being a Democrat). Any distinctiveness about this man has now been laid to rest.

    I used to have some measure of respect for Romney. He certainly is no fool. But he lacks character. So he will play to ‘the base’ for support and then they will throw him over for The Pitbull With Lipstick.

    Nothing to admire there, among any of them. Not a one.

    Romney has proven that he is just another right winger saying the right winger talking points, and hyping up the fear and hate ever present on display by the extremists in the GOP.

    oh wait…are there any non-extremists left in the GOP? nah…I didn’t think so.

  • Carney

    Once again, if we opposed a German cultural outreach center cheek by jowl with Auschwitz as being in aggressively poor taste, would that constitute accusing all Germans of being Nazis?

    What if the center’s name was Danzig, or some other formerly German city in Poland whose conquest or re-conquest German ultra-nationalists past and present have made a cause celebre? What if the leader of this center plays coy about whether Germany’s neo-Nazi NPD is in fact a neo-Nazi party? What if he states that the Jews were at least partly to blame for the Holocaust?

  • CentristNYer

    Frum: “But it’s hard to see why he deserves the special scorn of his hometown paper.”

    Did it ever occur to you that he got this treatment entirely because it’s his hometown paper? In the same way that FrumForum doles out (usually well-deserved) criticism of key Republicans, isn’t this a case of his fellow Bay Staters calling him to account for his weakness?

  • busboy33

    @Carney:

    Once again, if your comments led to the destruction of the Western Hemisphere, woulf you think it was a good idea to keep commenting? What if your comments were in reality satanic incantations to give everyone Teh Gay? Would you support that?

    No? Then you better stop, right? I mean, unless you want to make Baby Jesus cry.

    Hint: The fact that the only way you can try to make your point is to think up the most rediculous, inappropriate horror story sort of implies that you’ve got nothing more than hate going for you. Hope it keeps you warm.

  • exguru

    Quite right. Romney can’t fake anything successfully. He comes over as too slick by far. I now think he is damaged goods, and should be out of the question for 2012. His worst problem is he struck out on health care in Massachusetts… After 2012, he might fit well in the Bob Haldeman role.

  • llbroo49

    Carney,

    What if the people of Poland with their history of anti-semitism were offended that a Jewish Holocaust memorial (Auschwitz) was built in the middle of their country- would you support the Poles against a Jewish Memorial?

    If African Americans are offended by Rebel flags and memorials built to Confederate Generals, do you support the banning of these items?

    If Native Americans are offended by memorials of George Custer at Little Big Horn -do you support them?

    We can play this game all day. However, intelligent people are able to see beyond these symbols and to learn to accept other people’s rights as long as they do not infringe on our rights and safety.

  • ktward

    Romney’s problem is that he’s a pol without an engaged base.
    Without a base, what’s the point of pandering?

    The GOP base has no use for Romney at. all.
    I’m not sure how they could possibly make themselves any clearer on that point. GOP moderates (what’s left of them) aren’t a base– they’re marginalized interlopers.

    It’s cute the way you’re sticking up for your pal, David.
    But your ‘They did it first!’ argument is a silly defense completely beneath you.

  • mlindroo

    Frum wrote:
    > Romney may not have been a profile in courage on this issue.

    This, in a nutshell, is Romney’s problem. Other politicians pander too, of course, but not as blatantly as Mitt “let’s double the Gitmo!” Romney.

    I used to think Romney would be in a much better position now if he had stressed his excellent track record as a non-ideological problem solver in Massachusetts and elsewhere. Unfortunately, his “pragmatic” role as the enabler of health care reform in Massachusetts probably killed any hope of winning the 2012 nomination. The GOP base supposedly wants to repeal ObamaCare at all costs, and Mitt Romney will not be a credible spokesman for that.

    MARCU$

  • Slide

    Romney’s speech when running for President and his Muslim faith became an issue:

    Over the last year, we have embarked on a national debate on how best to preserve American leadership. Today, I wish to address a topic which I believe is fundamental to America’s greatness: our religious liberty.

    Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.

    The diversity of our cultural expression, and the vibrancy of our religious dialogue, has kept America in the forefront of civilized nations even as others regard religious freedom as something to be destroyed.

    Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me.

    What Romeny says now:

    the former governor opposes the mosque on the grounds that it could be used as a recruitment tool for radicals

    Now why would anyone get the idea that he is a disingenuous, two-faced, self-serving, pandering piece of shit?

    http://www.thebostonchannel.com/r/14789305/detail.html

  • sinz54

    Frum: Romney may not have been a profile in courage on this issue. But it’s hard to see why he deserves the special scorn of his hometown paper.
    Because the Boston Globe is a rigidly liberal Democratic paper, fiercely loyal to the Kennedy clan, and never has anything good to say about any MA Republicans, ever. “Unabashedly partisan,” was how the late reporter Theodore H. White described the Boston Globe.

    The Boston Globe endorsed Martha Coakley over Scott Brown, of course.

    But the Boston Globe’s liberalism is the liberalism of Harvard and the Route 128 yuppies. They will endorse tax breaks for high-tech businesses, rather than side with the working class on issues like busing and gun rights.

    But getting back to Romney’s problems:

    Romney’s problem is that he always panders.

    He was pro-life. Then when he ran for senator of MA (which is strongly pro-choice) against Ted Kennedy, he said he supported Roe v. Wade. Then when he ran for President in 2008, he said he was pro-life again.

    I don’t care that much for such politicians. It’s OK to have an epiphany that gets you to change your mind. I sure had one with RomneyCare. I had supported it; then when costs started zooming out of control, I decided it wasn’t working out.

    But politicians like Romney always have an epiphany that helps them win voters. Just once, I would like to see some politician announce that he’s had a change of heart, even though it may HURT him politically.

    And so Romney has alienated the GOP base, and he’s alienating the Tea Party folks who look for an uncompromising principled conservatism. It has nothing to do with his Mormonism. It has to do with his constant bending to the political winds.

  • sinz54

    Slide: …his Muslim faith…
    Try out the new “Modify” function.

  • Carney

    busboy33, my parallel example closely tracks the current situation. Your absurdities do not.

    llbroo49, yours are not much better.

    Both of you lazily and hastily dismiss the issue rather than really wrestling with it. Re read my post above and show some evidence that you get it.

  • Fairy Hardcastle

    Mr. Frum, could you please take the girl with four eyes off your site. It makes me dizzy.

  • Candy83

    Part of what sinz54 wrote is exactly why Mitt Romney’s electability, for the presidency, has been overrated: Romney has played both sides of the fence. The ex-Massachusetts governor could only get as far as the nomination. And the nod would be his only if he enters the primaries and caucuses as the best-funded candidate and has the base’s support. And, still, he wouldn’t flip and win Mass. in the general (the state got away from the GOP in 1928 and made exceptions for just two Republican commander-in-chiefs: Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan) unless the GOP were having 1970s and 1980s landslides. So Mitt could say, “I’m from New Hampshire now. Or, I’m from Utah.” It doesn’t mean anything, considering the results of the 2008 election now pointing to an era where the presidency is likely to be won for a generation or so by Democrats. It does bring up the addage, “be careful what you wish for,” given today’s Democrats act like [D]iet Republicans and say f-you to their base: liberals.

  • llbroo49

    Carney,

    There are a lot of things that they can/will do in Poland, but this is the United States. There is suppossed to be a difference.

    Also , you would have a lot more credibility in your case if you stated that while you were against the building of an Islamic center in proximity to Ground Zero for emotional reasons, you had no problem with the mosques that are being built in places like TN, CA, and WI (which are also facing opposition).

  • LFC

    Charlie Crist seems to be much like Mitt Romney in that neither is naturally a frothing right-wingnut. Crist, however, can make a credible run for the Senate as an independent. It’s no really feasible to run for President as an independent, so Romney must froth.

  • ktward

    Also, [Carney] would have a lot more credibility … if [he] stated that while [he was] against the building of an Islamic center in proximity to Ground Zero for emotional reasons, [he] had no problem with the mosques that are being built in places like TN, CA, and WI (which are also facing opposition).

    How about the mosques already in WTC proximity?
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38760800/ns/politics-more_politics/

    … the [proposed] Islamic center … at 45-51 Park Place … is roughly half a dozen normal Lower Manhattan blocks from the site of the North Tower, the nearest of the two destroyed in the attacks.

    The center’s location, in a former Burlington Coat Factory store, is already used by the cleric for worship, drawing a spillover from the imam’s former main place for prayers, the al-Farah mosque. That mosque, at 245 West Broadway, is about a dozen blocks north of the World Trade Center grounds.

    Another, the Manhattan Mosque, stands five blocks from the northeast corner of the World Trade Center site.

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  • abj

    oh wait…are there any non-extremists left in the GOP? nah…I didn’t think so.

    Nope. All just a bunch of neo-fascists longing for the day our fuhrer from Wasilla seizes control of the government (by legal or illegal means…whatever works I suppose).

    But he lacks character. So he will play to ‘the base’ for support and then they will throw him over for The Pitbull With Lipstick.

    Anyone who believes she will be the Republican nominee either doesn’t know much about Republicans or has been reading waaayyy too much Andrew Sullivan.

  • Telly Davidson

    There’s another problem, which David’s article speaks to in broad stroke — Mitt Romney, while a fine man (for a politician) and easily my first choice compared to Palin/Gingrich, is a Republican version of Al Gore and John Kerry. Elitist, condescending, and stiff — yes — but also without a credible way to appeal to either movement voters (a la Palin/Gingrich) or to the young, especially in terms of “branding” himself via the media.

    When Ross Perot was screeching about the (bargain-basement by today’s standards) “daff’cit” and a nearly 70-year-old George Bush (Sr) was puzzling over laser checkout counters, Bill Clinton was chillin’ with Janeane Garafalo, discussing underwear preferences with Tabitha Soren, and jamming with Arsenio. Before the Internet really broke through, Clinton reached out to youth voters and made the other two candidates look like nothing more than out-of-touch, outdated, old rich men who belonged in a gated 55-plus community in Miami or San Diego. In the contest of “who’d you rather have a beer with” between GW Bush and Al Gore — it was no contest. And Barack Obama Tweeted, Friend-ed, and Daily Kos-ted his way to the White House taking advantage of Social Networking and New Media, making Hillary and McCain look like rotary-phone era dinosaurs. As Wanda Sykes might have said, each of them had more than charisma — they had “flavah” — and they branded themselves thusly on TV, ads, campaign films, online….

    Palin and Huck and Gingrich already have the “back to the future” vote sewed up, and as said, Mitt can’t “do” downhome or middle-class — so the only niche left to him is to try to play on Obama’s turf as a with-it, current technocrat. Two words on that: Individual Mandate.

  • anniemargret

    abj: I said Romney will be thrown over for Sarah Palin with the *base.* Do you not think this will happen? I didn’t say I think Palin is national material. She would be creamed in a general election.

    He’s from god-awful librul elite Massachusetts, you know where all the hippies still wear birkies. College campuses everywhere. BeanTown. My oldest son was born there and I lived there for almost four years. It’s a northeast state – not ‘real America’ enough for the Republican base. Can you imagine Palin’s ‘base’ voting for Romney over Palin? I can’t.

    But she has the lipstick power right now, and Romney’s star has faded. Too bad, because other than his will ‘o the wisp indecision on what he believes or disbelieves, he at least has smarts and governing ability. Especially next to mini-governer, Mini-Me Palin.

    As for Andrew Sullivan.. I do read his blog everyday. Don’t always agree with his political views, but on the other hand, he’s a breath of fresh air. Yes, he despises Palin. I don’t think it has anything to do with his being ‘misogynistic’ in any way. I think he despises her for the same reasons millions of us despise her. Because she is a huckster and a phony . She is unintelligent and takes pride in being so. Because she is a divider and not a uniter. Because she can’t talk herself out of a bag unless it’s scripted.

    But mainly because she’s a huckster. She left her job in Alaska to seek fortune over duty . Not a good foundation for pretending she can be the ‘leader of the free world.” Hollywood, yes. DC, no.

  • abj

    I said Romney will be thrown over for Sarah Palin with the *base.* Do you not think this will happen? I didn’t say I think Palin is national material. She would be creamed in a general election.

    You seem to be assuming her nomination is baked into the cake already, now, in August 2010 – which assumes nothing will change between now and 2012 (or am I misreading you?). The national issues will be different, and the party will recalibrate accordingly, in ways neither of us can anticipate now. Think about it – at this point in 2006, how many people seriously believed Barack Obama could win the Democratic nomination in 2008 – much less that he’d win a decisive victory in the general? At this point four years ago, most observers believed we’d have a Hillary vs. Rudy race.

    I have no idea who will be the GOP nominee, but I would wager serious money it won’t be Palin. Or Romney for that matter. Within the party, I think she’s already overplaying her hand – by getting involved in so many contested primaries, she’s starting to annoy some in the party. And her endorsement track record is, at best, mixed. She definitely hasn’t proven herself a kingmaker.

    I don’t think it has anything to do with his being ‘misogynistic’ in any way.

    No, I just view his obsession with Trig as simply bizarre.

    Because she is a huckster and a phony . She is unintelligent and takes pride in being so. Because she is a divider and not a uniter. Because she can’t talk herself out of a bag unless it’s scripted.

    We agree completely on this. From the brain-dead tweets to the asinine facebook posts – the woman infuriates me.

    I’m no fan of Sullivan though, mainly because he rarely has anything interesting to say these days. In terms of the arguments he makes on behalf of the administration and its policies, his blog is virtually indistinguishable from think progress, daily kos, etc. I’ll read it and think to myself, “hmm, I’ve read all this elsewhere…anything new?”

    Too bad, because I used to really enjoy reading his columns.