One of the wonders of this campaign is how Romney allowed that narrative to stick—they knew it was coming, and seemingly did nothing to stop it. How did that happen?
All candidates sell themselves based on their personal story, their values, and their accomplishments. Applying these to Romney, and it's easy to see why he was never able to dig himself out of his hole of unpopularity.
You learn the most about someone by seeing how they overcome adversity. Yet Romney is one of those rare creatures that has never faced any. He was born rich and powerful, was a dick in prep school (one of his friends described him as something out of Lord of the Flies), roughed it in college with Ann by selling stocks (which every downtrodden college student gets to do), then leveraged his daddy's money and connections to build his business.
There's nothing there that paints Romney as a sympathetic person. Thus, he and his family invent adversity. The story of Seamus wasn't dug up by an investigative reporter, it was included in Romney's book as a supposedly positive story about him! He thought the adversity was having to clean up his terrified dog's mess. Everyone else just saw a dick move. Then there's the story by his family about how Mitt cuts in line at dinner and finishes eating before everyone else sits down. That was supposed to be a cute anecdote, but it's a horrifyingly callous portrait of a guy who doesn't seem to like his family very much. And if he can't be gracious to his family, who the hell will he be gracious to? (The answer is no one, as the cute ladies with the gourmet cookies and those NASCAR fans found out.)
That's why you never see people talking about what a great guy he is—because he isn't. There's nothing in his life history that paints him as a sympathetic figure because he's never gone out of his way to help someone, and he's never had to dig deep to overcome obstacles in his life. George W. Bush might've been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but at least he engendered loyalty and love from his circle of friends. Romney doesn't seem to have any.
Voters expect to get a sense for what drives a candidate's decision-making, and in American politics, that usually takes the form of god talk. Republicans beat your head over with it, while Democrats are more subtle about it ("I am my brother's keeper"). But in both cases, religion plays an important role in defining a candidate. That's why Republicans spend so much time claiming that Obama is Muslim and at the same time he's the associate of a racist Christian preacher.
In Romney, Republicans nominated the one guy in the country who can't talk about his religion. The problem isn't with mainstream Americans, who don't give a crap that he's a Mormon. It's with the GOP's evangelical base. I was chatting with a friend yesterday, talking about her hard-core evangelical mother in Florida. At her church, the preacher said, "I can't tell you who to vote for, but all I have to say is that the Mormon isn't going to heaven." The plural of anecdote is not data, and all I've got is one data point. But it's exactly fear of this reaction that led the Romney camp to run from his religion despite the fact that he's a "bishop" in his church (they clearly have a low bar).
So if his values don't derive from religion, where do they come from? The jury is in: greed. Time and time again, Romney makes clear that there's nothing more important in his life than money. Even in the context of religion:
“I love tithing,” Ann Romney tells the magazine. “When Mitt and I give that check, I actually cry.”Yup, greed.
“So do I,” Mitt Romney adds, “but for a different reason.”
Romney has two big accomplishments he could run on: his term as Massachusetts governor, and his business experience.
The former was vetoed by his tea party base, angry at the notion that anyone could get health care services. That shit is supposed to be limited to those with the biggest bank accounts! The latter was vetoed by the anti-Romney narrative kicked off by Occupy, fueled by Republicans in the GOP primary, and then reinforced both by Democrats and their allies.
You could see Romney's incredulity that his signature accomplishment, making tons of money, was a liability. Newt Gingrich won South Carolina on the strength of an anti-Bain message, abandoning it only after the party establishment leaned on him to shut it. Democrats were almost scared off by the Harold Fords and Cory Bookers and even Bill Clinton—warning that "attacking success" would backfire on the Democratic Party. Remember, the early anti-Romney narrative from Team Blue was that he was a flip-flopper. In reality, going after his business record took away the last possible thing Romney could use to try and paint himself as a sympathetic figure.
Don't get me wrong—Romney is seen as a dick because he genuinely is a dick. His problem is that he wasn't given the chance to pretend otherwise. He was unable to talk about his religion, or his tenure as Massachusetts governor, or his business record, and with no compelling life story to generate sympathy or respect. He was boxed in from the start, between Democrats who are finally learning how to fight Republicans, and Republicans who refuse to embrace who Romney really is (a Mormon who passed universal health care as governor of Massachusetts).