Romney’s Failing Etch-a-Sketch

The Republican presidential candidate is trying to be everything to everyone, but Sam Fulwood III says being a hard-core conservative and trying to appeal to moderates isn’t working.

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Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to reporters about the secretly taped video from one of his campaign fundraising events in Costa Mesa, California on Monday, September 17, 2012 (AP/Charles Dharapak)
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to reporters about the secretly taped video from one of his campaign fundraising events in Costa Mesa, California on Monday, September 17, 2012 (AP/Charles Dharapak)

I’m beginning to wonder if former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney understands what it takes to become the president of the United States. Given the recent turn of events in his campaign, I could make a credible argument that the Republican presidential candidate simply cannot persuade a majority of voters that he’s in the race to win. Why? Because he can’t explain why he wants to win—a fundamental prerequisite for the job.

Indeed, he’s twisted himself into such a pretzel—largely to appeal to the narrowest slice of the undecided electorate as well as his conservative base—that it’s almost as if he’s stopped actually believing in anything at all. If he loses the election, it will be an affirmation that most Americans don’t embrace the harshest and most extreme brand of conservative ideas, but it will also be a judgment on Gov. Romney’s increasingly apparent lack of commitment to any one overarching ideal beyond personal ambition. This is why he’s having such a hard time trying to persuade voters that even he believes the many different things he’s saying and doing.

Consider, for example, the short list of bungles, mishaps, and discoveries occurring in the span of days following the Republican National Convention, a time when most nominees are basking in the afterglow of a postconvention “bounce” in national polls. Not Gov. Romney, who has spent valuable campaign time batting back self-inflicted, negative news stories:

None of this demonstrates a commitment to any single political ideology so much as a series of crass calculations about political expediency.

A despairing right-wing pundit, Laura Ingraham, took to the airwaves of her nationally syndicated show last week to lament what Gov. Romney is doing to the Republican Party.

 If you can’t beat Barack Obama with this record, then shut down the party. Shut it down, start new, with new people. Because this is a gimme election, or at least it should be. Election after election, we hire people who have lost previous campaigns, who have run campaigns that have failed, who have messaged campaigns where the message fell flat, and they keep getting re-hired.

Rush Limbaugh was equally morbid on his show:

If Obama wins, let me tell you what it’s the end of: The Republican Party. There’s gonna be a third party that’s gonna be oriented toward conservatism. . . . And I know if Obama wins, the Republican Party is gonna try to maneuver things so conservatives get blamed.

In a rare confluence of cosmic proportions, I find myself in partial agreement with Ingraham and Limbaugh. An Obama victory in November will compel the Republican Party to reassess itself and its reliance on wing-nut ideology. Otherwise, the Republican Party will die.

My guess is that, regardless of the outcome this year, the extremists within the Republican ranks will be excised and a more centrist conservative movement will emerge by the time the 2016 election rolls around. The lesson of this campaign is becoming clearer as Election Day nears. Appealing to the wild-eyed fanatics in the Tea Party leaves no path for the Republicans to capture the White House. And yet, Gov. Romney will have proven that appealing to the Tea Party and moderate Americans doesn’t work.

Already, the finger pointing at Gov. Romney has begun. But dumping the blame on the candidate is a mistake—one that conservative pundits and activists have yet to comprehend. As blogger Paul Abrams makes clear in a recent posting on Huffington Post, any postelection blame that’s focused exclusively on Gov. Romney’s campaign missteps will be a denial of the changing political world that doesn’t embrace harsh, hard-core conservative ideas.

“For all their absurdities, campaigns have a way of dispelling some illusions, and so Republicans’ bigger problems than Romney’s flaws are their policies coming face-to-face with the world as it is,” Abrams writes of the conservatives who have pushed Gov. Romney to embrace views that are unpalatable to the majority of Americans. “So, the Republican strategists need to lay off Romney. . . . [C’]mon boys-and-girls on the Right, at least he was trying to sell your claptrap. And, therein, lay their dilemma.”

“It is not Mitt Romney, flawed as he is,” he argues. “It is in themselves.”

Sam Fulwood III is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.  His work with the Center’s Progress 2050 project examines the impact of policies on the nation when there will be no clear racial or ethnic majority by the year 2050. 

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


Sam Fulwood III

Senior Fellow

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