Sometimes a candidate can, in an instant, make a mistake that seals his fate. Who will ever forget Dan Quayle freezing like a deer in the headlights while debating Lloyd Bentsen in 1988, or Howard Dean’s primal scream back in ’03? Other times a candidate can ruin his career with great care and planning. Mitt Romney falls into the latter category. Let me explain to you exactly what I mean.
Mitt Romney is tall, slim, tan, and good looking. He comes from a wealthy and successful family; he has one of the great names in modern American politics, and he has an enormous person fortune. Romney also has a beautiful wife and five handsome, clean-cut sons. Despite all this Romney isn’t perfect – he doesn’t have an ear for good rhetoric or the ability to speak extemporaneously, and his public persona is somewhat wooden and awkward.
So when a man like Romney decides that he wants to be President of the United States of America, what does he do?
He makes a plan. He works the plan. He runs for US Senate, and when that doesn’t work out he lowers his sights to a prestigious governorship. He makes sure that his conduct and his record appear to be exemplary, and he continues to plan. As his plan comes closer to zero hour, he begins to conduct private polls and focus groups. He convenes planning sessions with highly paid political consultants. These consultants plan his wardrobe, they create his literature, they decide what his positions should be on the issues, how he should answer questions, and what questions he should avoid answering. He hires consultants who use data from psychological studies to determine what font is most flattering to the letters in his name, and what color and size his response cards should be. He meets with pollsters who tell him what issues people like to hear him talk about, what words or phrases he should speak more often and what words he should banish from his vocabulary.
Eventually the candidate’s schedule and behavior, in fact his very personality become so planned, so set in stone, so inflexible, that the campaign becomes like a car sliding on ice; the road curves and the car goes straight. The car’s momentum – its inertia – now has a very negative effect on it. And even if the driver of that car (that campaign) regains control, by the time they get going the right direction again it’s too late to catch up to the competition.
Mitt Romney has planned his presidential run for years, and in some ways he has done very well at it. His campaign is impressive in its size and organization, and in its implementation of carefully planned strategies. But in other ways it hasn’t worked out so well. Romney has lived his life as a candidate for years, and sometimes it seems he isn’t sure who he is or what he believes anymore.
More than one potential voter has come away from a Romney event thinking that he had spoken past them or at them, instead of to them or with them. Maybe the reason is that when Romney speaks, it isn’t from the heart; he’s trying to remember what Jimmy told him to say if he was ever asked this particular question, or he’s trying to get Jimmy’s answer to fit a question he wasn’t prepared for.
Ed Rollins, the campaign manager for Mike Huckabee, has said that the job of a governor is to be a good governor, but that Mitt Romney seems to have spent his term as governor in Massachusetts running for president. Romney has made a huge gamble. He has spent nearly $20 million from his own fortune to finance his bid for the White House, he has committed years of his life to accomplish his great goal, and despite all his expenditures, all his efforts, his consultants, his assistants, his planning, and his years of working the plan, it’s looking less and less like he can win.