Sir Harold Evans: Mitt Romney's roller-coaster

September 23rd, 2012

Daily News & Analysis
By Sir Harold Evans
Sept. 23, 3012

Mitt Romney is fighting back against criticism of his “incompetent” push for the presidency, rejecting claims that his campaign has lost its way and insisting: “It doesn’t need a turnaround.”

Battered by the fallout from a secretly taped video in which he was seen apparently demeaning 47% of the electorate as freeloaders, and struggling to overtake Barack Obama in the polls after a series of perceived strategic blunders, the Republican nominee will say in a television interview today that his campaign does not need an “intervention”.

He is attempting to steady party nerves after what has been seen as the worst week yet for his campaign, in which mistakes and misjudgments have prevented him from capitalising on Obama’s weaknesses.

Romney has only twice drawn fully level with Obama in national polls over the past six months: once in the spring, soon after he had clinched the Republican nomination, and at the end of August, after his party’s convention. He also trails in most of the key swing states.

On Friday the former private-equity boss and his wife Ann responded to pressure from Democrats and released a summary of their tax returns for the past 20 years, which showed they paid an average of 20.2% of their annual earnings in federal income tax – though in one year that figure fell to 13.7%.

With seven weeks till election day, what has really gone wrong – and how can Republicans still hope to win the White House?

Sir Harold Evans, veteran journalist and author of The American Century, who has lived in the US since 1984, assesses Mitt Romney’s prospects.

Willard Mitt Romney was born with a silver foot in his mouth.

It is possible to forgive it as a congenital trait. After all, his dad, the genial George Romney, successful head of the American Motors Corporation and governor of Michigan (1963-69), lost his own bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 by setting a world record for the mass manufacture of gaffes.

He had such a penchant for saying one thing and then retracting it that the reporter Jack Germond announced he was fixing his keyboard so that a single keystroke produced the phrase, “Romney later explained”.

It was charming for a time to hear what George had said lately, but when he came back from a look at the Vietnam War, he announced he’d had “the greatest brainwashing anyone could get”. This time it was a gaffe too far.

Some American prisoners recently released by the Chinese had renounced US citizenship, saying they’d been brainwashed, and primary voters had no enthusiasm for electing a president who might turn out to have been the Manchurian candidate. So we got Nixon and Agnew instead. Thanks, George.

Mitt was on a similar jag through the nomination process. “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me… My wife drives a couple of Cadillacs… I’m not concerned about the very poor, we have a safety net…”

Men and women who’ve been looking for work for a year are supposed to appreciate the irony when he opens up: “I should tell my story. I’m also unemployed.” It’s tough getting through the Great Recession when your net worth is just a few hundred million.

Arriving in Britain for the Olympics, of course, his tin ear wins a tin medal for ?finding the organisation “disconcerting”. David Cameron’s put- down is still being celebrated here as classic British one-upmanship.

These gaffes have been seen as evidence of the insensitivity of a man who inhabits a parallel world, rather than manifestations of ineptitude disqualifying him from high office. He undoubtedly has the managerial competence for that. For all the demonisation of Mitt’s venture capital company, Bain, he showed he could chart a future for dying companies and create a thriving new one (such as the Staples stationery chain), just as he turned a corrupt shambles of the Utah Winter Olympics into a showcase.

He will never be the president who can figure out bipartisan deals with the opposition, as Ronald Reagan did regularly over drinks with his “old buddy” Speaker Tip O’Neill (neither can Barack Obama). Nor will he be a bumbling Warren Harding, captive of corrupt whisky-sodden cronies. Mitt is squeaky-clean.

And it can fairly be said that while Obama is a very likeable president who inherited a financial catastrophe, he has not exactly excelled as a Reagan-style rejuvenator.

He gave priority to Obamacare over jobs, failed to retain convincing economic counsel and unwisely delegated his vital stimulus package to a pork-barrel Congress. He is seen more now as a caretaker of decline, rather than a healer of the planet.

This is where Romney’s latest excursion into unreality is so maddening to Republicans, with only seven weeks to voting. A select few wealthy men and women were present at the dinner where Mitt asked for their donations, but the videotape, made in May, is now being viewed by millions of voters as the secret unveiling of the portrait of Dorian Gray, with Mitt revealing his dark soul.

See, Democrats are saying nationwide in a swelling chorus, see his contempt for half the population, the other half, the ordinary decent Americans. You there in the 47 per cent whom Mitt says will vote for Obama are lazy good-for-nothing moochers. You must be. You don’t pay any income tax, you gorge on food stamps, you “believe you are entitled to health care, to food and housing, you name it”.

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