As the Mitt Romney campaign careens through a truly horrific week, featuring one self-inflicted wound after another followed by feeble attempts to explain or deny, sometimes both, the punditocracy has looked on in a state of despair (conservative), wonder (centrist), and amusement (liberal). Plus an undercurrent of surprise that Mitt Romney has suddenly turned into a truly terrible candidate.
Well, I'm not surprised. When I look back at Romney's political career, I see a consistently lousy candidate, capable of winning only when the circumstances are stacked overwhelmingly in his favor.
His first foray was 1994's attempt to out-liberal Teddy Kennedy. Yep, Mitt's masterstroke was to try to position himself to the left of the most famous liberal in the U.S. Senate. Didn't go too well, and it left behind a barrel of embarrassing video that would establish his reputation as a waffler with no real convictions.
His image as a canny pol derives entirely from his run as Governor of Massachusetts. Winning the top office in a notoriously blue state was taken as a sign of political merit. But wait; his candidacy and Governorship coincide with the darkest hours of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, which was caught in a seemingly bottomless well of corruption, incompetence and cronyism. Plus, after all, he didn't take the office away from the Dems; he succeeded not one, but two Republican Governors.
After the jump: Standing on the shoulders of nonentities, leaving a party in shambles, and bumbling his way through two Presidential campaigns.
His predecessors were Republicans Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci*, two men who were also given a lot of credit for electoral success in the bluest of states -- but who, in the long run, have proven to be political ciphers. (Weld, you may recall, was thumped by John Kerry in a 1996 bid for U.S. Senate, and his brief pursuit of the New York governorship in 2006 was a complete disaster.)
*Followed by a brief and hapless intermezzo by Lt. Gov. Jane Swift, who occupied the Big Chair after Cellucci became US Ambassador to Canada.)
Back to Mitt. His 2002 gubernatorial campaign was substantially underwritten by himself; he was responsible for more than $6 million of his total campaign kitty of less than $10 million. And he beat a weak Democratic candidate by five percentage points. In fact, he got less than 50% of the total vote, but the left-wing electorate was split between the Democrat and the Green Party candidate.
He racked up some early success as Governor, most notably the Health Care Reform He Dare Not Name. But as time went on, his charm wore thin; by the end of his term, his approval rating was pathetically low, and he left the state Republican Party in tatters. His designated successor, Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey (owner of the $3.9 million Vermont hideaway where Romney recently did some debate prep) was walloped by Democrat Deval Patrick by 20 percentage points.
And then, in 2008, he ran for President. He established himself as a contender by spending a boatload of his own money -- $45 million in all, nearly half of his 2008 campaign total. Even so, he was outvoted in in Iowa by genial ultraconservative Mike Huckabee, and in New Hampshire by John McCain, a man who is greatly esteemed in Washington circles but who (like George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole before him) failed to warm the cockles of Republican hearts.
Huckabee got the cockles but not enough of them; Romney failed to out-cockle the cockle-free McCain, and lost the race for the nomination in spite of a substantial monetary advantage. Journalist Evan Thomas, looking back on the race, wrote that Romney "came off as a phony, even when he was perfectly sincere." Hmm, that sounds familiar.
Romney's second-place finish in 2008 gave him the early edge for 2012, which he tried to cement by spending the ensuing four years running for President. He failed. Throughout 2011 and early 2012, Romney was beset by an onslaught of truly uninspired and truly ridiculous candidates. Putative technocrats Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty failed to generate any enthusiasm whatsoever, leaving Romney to face a clown-car of a field -- Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum.
Every one of them was a complete joke of a candidate, and yet Romney consistently struggled to dispatch them. Republican operatives and political pundits constantly begged for someone -- anyone -- to enter the race: Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio, etc., etc. They all stayed on the sidelines, as Mitt stumbled his way to victory over a bunch of tomato cans.
Throughout the spring and summer, as the economy continued to sputter, Mitt had plenty of time to make a case against President Obama. He couldn't. The polls didn't budge. Consistently, throughout the primary and general campaigns, Mitt Romney has shown a propensity for missteps, misstatements, and unconvincing rhetoric. And now his campaign has hit the rocks.
Color me unsurprised. This past week was of a piece with the rest of Mitt Romney's political career. It's just that now, he's all by himself in the glare of the klieg lights, fully revealing his fundamental flaws for all to see.