After Mitt Romney’s continued wins in late primary states the obvious Republican nominee for president has officially entered into direct campaign battle-duty with President Obama. Yet, as he does so, he faces a self-inflicted Sisyphean task to overcome an utter inability to relate to the average voter and his endless flip-flopping on virtually every campaign issue. Even with current polls indicating a dead heat, the former Massachusetts governor finds himself running against his own record, an improving economy and an incumbent regaining his public approval while Mitt struggles with his own relatability issues.
Despite the deep political divides within the U.S., voters find confidence in the consistency and convictions of their leaders. Once a potential leader’s convictions or stability are called into question it is difficult to regain credibility. Gaining prominence as a political weapon during the 2004 presidential elections, accusations of flip-flopping can become a mire in which candidates suddenly find themselves trapped. It became a effective strategy against the Kerry campaign largely because he miscalculated how strongly resonant the message was among voters. He was bogged down and the more he struggled to clarify his stances, the deeper he sank until it was simply impossible to extricate himself from the label he’d been branded with, a flip-flopper.
The death-blows for Kerry’s campaign centered on only a few, specific pieces of legislation but the damage they caused were significant, proving the effectiveness of the label he was saddled with. Romney, by his own doing, has created a situation involving a mass of policy and ideological issues in which he’s flipped his views on. And unlike John Kerry, whose opponents only needed a few examples to do him in, Romney’s 1-80’s are well-documented, in a multitude of YouTube clips spanning his entire political career, available for everyone to watch and share with anyone with internet access. His audience is exponentially larger than the one John Kerry had to contend with and history shows us how that election turned out.
From his fairly moderate Republican beginnings during his time as Massachusetts governor, Romney has made global ideological shifts to convince the GOP base he is severely conservative. In so doing, he has alienated independent and women voters. His shifted stances on abortion choice, women’s health, Planned Parenthood funding and contraception has deeply wounded his reputation with female voters. Many independents feel funding for Planned Parenthood should remain intact as part of the Title X programs and with the implementation of the new Arizona bill banning the organization’s funding this will most assuredly remain a campaign issue. He came out against requiring religious-based employers to provide contraception coverage even though the Massachusetts health care reform he signed as governor contained the very same requirement. And he changed his stance on a woman’s right to choose four times, shifting with each campaign he ran.
The former governor has also changed his position to allow illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship from favoring it in 2006 to siding against such proposals more recently. He has moved from his position on climate change as a debate which is “pretty much over” to stating science is far from resolving the issue. During the Massachusetts gay marriage debate, Mr. Romney was strongly against any ban but changed his stance soon after to support the passage of the Protection of Marriage Amendment. As a gubernatorial candidate Romney rejected the now famous, or infamous, No Tax Pledge, his campaign spokesman dismissing it as, “Government By Gimmickry”. However, as his 2008 presidential primary campaign swung into high gear his views changed and he signed the Pledge.
In addition to his multiple ideological shifts, Romney has a major chore find common ground with average Americans who are weary of the slow economic recovery, who because of the Occupy Movement view the wealthiest individuals with significant disdain. The former governor has a problem with his “Rich Man” image. He was the wealthiest of all his primary rivals and outpaces the President’s net worth by $178 million. Just as his two Harvard degrees keep him from credibly labeling the President as an elitist, his wealth provides little secure footing for any debate over who is the real “middle class president”. A debate made all the more difficult with Obama’s own traditional, middle class upbringing.
Romney’s own attempts to even sound middle class have fallen flat. During a NASCAR race interview when asked if he followed the sport, his response; ”Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans, but I have some friends who are NASCAR team owners.”; only showed he has no frame of reference to understand the middle class. His advice for new college graduates to take risks, to invest in their own business ventures, even if they have to borrow $20,000 from their parents, only confirmed his poor comprehension of the fiscal situation of most people in this country. How many parents after helping their children through 4 years of college have $20,000 of disposable income to lend out to them? This same assumption of varied financial options extends back to his own time in college when his wife, Ann, related their own trials as a young couple when they were, “..so financially strapped that they had to liquidate some of their stock portfolio to get by”.
This problem relating to the middle and poorer classes is only compounded when his own tax plans and his support of the Ryan budget place the burden of debt reduction onto the very shoulders of those he’s trying to curry favor. Coupled with his assertion, “Corporations are people” and his past as a private equity, venture capitalist; an industry synonymous with leveraged buyouts, corporate raiders, the junk bond collapse, savings and loans crisis, the dot-com bubble bust and Gordon Gekko; Mitt Romney is faced with an uphill battle to convince the “every-(wo)man” that he understands them.
To do this Romney will need to break free from his virtual role as Sisyphus pushing his boulder, chiseled into shape by a disingenuous etch-a-sketch record, up a steep hill where each new revelation or gaffe trips him up, sending the boulder right back down to the bottom. He has to explain the shifts in his core values throughout his political career, something he has not gracefully done.
He has to, because of his ever-changing stances, convince voters he will not succumb to the ideal Republican president Grover Norquist envisioned so ostentatiously at this year’s CPAC. One who, under a newly elected GOP-controlled Congress, “…can sign the legislation that the Republican House and Senate pass. … We don’t need someone to think. … We need someone who knows how to hold a pen.” Mr. Romney has to assure voters he will not assume the rubber stamp president role Mr. Norquist none too subtly has assigned him.
Beyond all this, all his change in ideas and stances, the primary testament for how someone will perform as president of the United States is one’s strength of character. The question is, does Romney have the character necessary for the presidency? Looking back at all that was discussed here goes a long way to answering that question.
“Because it’s wreckable, alright!”
“The richest 1% owns half this country’s wealth”
“I create nothing…I own.”