It must be hard getting up every morning trying to decide who you’re going to be that day.
~ John F. Kennedy on Richard Nixon, 1960

With the primary season pandering finally behind them, the Republican Party in general and presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney in particular face an all but impossible balancing act: Being mindful of the interests of a party base that has evolved into a welter of angry Tea Partiers, self-righteous evangelicals and hard core right-wingers with nutty ideas while trying to court mainstream voters and independent women in particular who have shown little affinity for the GOP’s social and economic platforms.

Some historic perspective here: Romney enters the post-primary campaign season with the weakest favorability rating on record for a presumptive presidential nominee in ABC News/Washington Post polls since 1984 and trails a resurgent Barack Obama in personal popularity by a whopping 21 percentage points in one poll. This on top of Romney’s tepid showings in primaries last week despite the fact that Rick Santorum, his chief challenger, had stopped campaigning.

Other polls have Romney closer to the president and the occasional daily tracking poll shows him ahead by a nose, but none of them take into account his not-so-silent partner — the House Republican caucus with its coddle the rich and screw everyone else mantra, and that will be an albatross around Romney’s neck through to Election Day no matter how hard he flip-flops.

The crux of the balancing act is this: Can Romney appear moderate enough to attract the independents he needs to win without alienating the leaders of the House caucus, who in turn will be hectored by those rebellious freshmen who rode anti-Washington antipathy to victory in 2010? In other words, is Romney trapped by his base?

Put another way, does Romney really believe in what Nobel prize-winning economist and pundit Paul Krugman calls the confidence fairy. The confidence fairy rewards policy makers — in this case House Republicans — for their fiscal virtue, but in reality and as we know, the confidence fairy is a myth.

Romney has a further handicap that he has shown no sign of overcoming: Defensiveness over his immense wealth and an inability to break out of the bubble world of the super rich in which he and his wife live.

Had Romney and his advisers been more in tune with how many voters will view him, he would have pulled out funds invested in offshore havens like the Cayman Islands and Switzerland long before that became an issue, as well as put off a $12 million renovation to his La Jolla home, which includes a car elevator, so that didn’t become an issue. And a head’s up here: With the warmer weather will come May Day and the reincarnation of Occupy Wall Street. Romney will be squarely in their cross hairs.

Romney doesn’t necessarily have to connect with average Joes and Janes to get elected, but in abandoning cultural and economic moderation in hearting the hardcore Republican Party line and surprisingly showing little sign of Etch A Sketching back toward the center, he is extremely vulnerable to attacks from Obama and his surrogates whether it’s over something silly like his wife having two Cadillacs or more serious concerns like his support of the Paul Ryan budget plan.

Finally, beyond the balancing act is Romney’s character.

I’m with commentator Charles Blow when he say that he has no personal gripe with him: “I don’t believe him to be an evil man. Quite the opposite: he appears to be a loving husband and father. Besides, evil requires conviction, which Romney lacks. But he is a dangerous man. Unprincipled ambition always is. Infinite malleability is its own vice because it’s infinitely corruptible by others of ignoble intentions.”

There is perhaps no one better at unprincipled ambition in American politics than puppet master Karl Rove, who is back from the dead with a gadzillion dollar super PAC to bankroll Romney in his quest to assault American democracy in much the same way that Rove’ star pupil George W. Bush did.

Shaun Mullen is an award winning journalist and blogger. “Report From 20 Paws Ranch,”
which is the name of his mountain hideaway, appears on Mondays
.

Shaun Mullen
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Dean Esmay, Guest Voice Columnist
Member
Who would have thought all these years later people are still obsessed with Karl Rove? As if Democrats don’t have smart, ruthless strategists of their own, and their own SuperPACs? The endless drumbeat from some circles that Republicans are “out of touch” with mainstream values continues to be belied by the fact that they keep winning elections. Sure, they only hold most of the nation’s Governorships, most of the nation’s state legislatures, the House of Representatives, are at near-parity in the Senate, and look set to consolidate their hold on the House and possibly take control of the Senate come… Read more »
zephyr
Guest
zephyr
4 years 4 months ago

“The problem with these analyses is that they ignore how much the hard left continues to bedevil and plague mainstream Democrats (like Obama).”

Dean, your youth may be showing. “Mainstream Democrats” are today’s moderates. Those you refer to as “hard left” are nothing more than average liberals of yesterday. Apparently the new paradigm has been shifted long enough now that newbies think it’s the norm. It’s not.

I’m still wondering how Romney is going to wrestle with the choice of a VP. I think he will need to be very, very careful in that endeavor…

Dean Esmay, Guest Voice Columnist
Member
Shaun: I was not aware that you were empowered to speak for “readers here.” 😉 If you had referred to David Axelrod, James Carville, or Rahm Emmanuel as “puppet masters” who were bankrolling Obama’s quest to “assault American Democracy” I would also express amusement. In any case, such rhetoric about Rove almost made me nostalgic: it felt like 2004 all over again. 😉 Gratuitous condescension about telescope settings aside, you didn’t answer anything I said. But perhaps I wasn’t clear enough in why what I wrote applied to what you wrote. So let me be clearer: Mitt Romney doesn’t have… Read more »
Dean Esmay, Guest Voice Columnist
Member
Zephyr: One thing I usually find is that it’s hazardous to psychoanalyze or condescend to others on personal matters. I don’t think my age is relevant, but if you care, I’ll be 46 in July. But if I’m to return the mindreading act in kind, let’s look at this assertion: “Mainstream Democrats” are today’s moderates. Those you refer to as “hard left” are nothing more than average liberals of yesterday.” I know people who hate liberals and moderates who talk that way, and I know people who love liberals who talk that way. It’s a fascinating assertion. In my experience,… Read more »
Dean Esmay, Guest Voice Columnist
Member
Shaun: I’ll wager you a dollar Romney’s approval rating goes up by 10 points by the end of June, because he’s not particularly unlikeable, and because most Americans don’t pay attention to Presidential politics until the conventions. Those of us who watch these things obsessively are a weird form of nerd; most voters are not paying attention, even go out of their way to avoid paying attention, until we get much closer to the campaign. In fact I’ll make it even more interesting: one dollar says Romney’s approval rate hits 45% by end of June. That’s actually more than 10… Read more »
Dean Esmay, Guest Voice Columnist
Member

August! August! I meant by end of August, not June!

Although actually a rise to 45% by end of June wouldn’t surprise me, my bet is predicated on the aftermath of the conventions.

zephyr
Guest
zephyr
4 years 4 months ago

Dean, condescension has nothing to do it. Zip. Nada. Increased years (I’m 60 naturally give one a wider historical perspective (assuming attention is being paid), whereas youth (a relative term I know) is conversely more limited in scope. That the political spectrum has been shifting over the decades is more obvious to some of us than it is to others. Living through the changes isn’t quite the same as reading about them and deciding which parts resonate best for you.

Rcoutme
Guest
Rcoutme
4 years 4 months ago
I think Dean and Michael are both sort of right (and also sort of wrong). Mitt will not have to worry about those on the Right voting for Obama; they won’t. On the other hand, he DOES have to worry about getting them to vote for him (they might simply stay home). It is the “Get out the vote” part that is the balancing act. Mitt does not need to run “against” congressional Republicans. He needs to run against Obama. From what I have seen, the far right are so incensed about Obama that they will need only a little… Read more »
Dean Esmay, Guest Voice Columnist
Member
Zephyr: One thing I’ve learned the hard way is that living through events tends to both enrich and warp your perspective, because you only saw things from your point of view and not that of your adversaries, or those who were outside that frame of reference. I know far more about the politics of the 1990s today than I did when I was living in them, for example. The more you study history, the more you can see how “being there” both enhances and warps your perspective. Sometimes in very advanced age we see this most clearly: see how Thomas… Read more »
Dean Esmay, Guest Voice Columnist
Member
Rcoutme: Get Out The Vote will be a big part of the November fight without question. But only in the battleground states. Romney’s run a tightly disciplined, very well strategized campaign from the very beginning, and shows every sign of continuing in that mode. So he knows how important GOTV is going to be. You can expect him to put a lot into it, just like Obama. You should also watch as Romney’s ideological adversaries rally hard behind him by convention time. Because they will. As for the notion that Romney’s platform is ludicrous: when I look at it (you… Read more »
Rcoutme
Guest
Rcoutme
4 years 4 months ago
Well…reading through most of his government proposals, about the only one I can agree with is the Social Security one. Slowly raising the age of eligibility and providing a lower benefit to the very wealthy are not really controversial and are probably useful. If one looks into the other proposals it looks pretty unsound. Eliminate regulations to protect investors–yeah, that ought to spur on investment. Cut taxes on the very wealthy in order to get them to invest–yeah, because they are just looking at their piles of money right now. They need an INCENTIVE to do something else with it.… Read more »
chris87654
Guest
chris87654
4 years 4 months ago
Interesting to watch Romney battle sectors within the Republican party – major splits occured by Tea Parties and they’ll be hard to overcome. Anything he does to appease “conservatives” (many of whom would rather put pokers in their eyes than vote for someone they consider mainstream, establishment, elite, blue-blood, or RINO) should get fragged when he tries to appeal to Indy’s or crossover Dems. Romney’s problem is the same as all Republicans – they can’t present any plans for solution because they’ll cater to the top 1-2% of earners, while nailing the other 98-99% of voters (including Republicans peons). Their… Read more »
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