GOP Death Watch

If Republicans Don’t Like Mitt Romney, Why Should Anyone Else?

One of the defining characteristics of the national GOP is the party’s discipline. Once the party has its nominee, it marches in lockstep (or possibly goosestep) behind him. Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment was: thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican. And for the most part, the party adheres to that commandment–except when it comes to Mitt Romney.

Romney has the dubious distinction of being repeatedly called out by otherwise reliable party stalwarts for a wide range of failings. Consider just this sample:

  • In response to the Romney Olympic gaffe-fest, Karl Rove, architect of George W. Bush’s presidential victories, said, “You have to shake your head.” To add insult to injury, Rove made his comment on Fox News, the official GOP cable network.
  • Conservative pundit George Will poured fuel on the fire when he said that Romney’s decision not to release more than two years’ worth of tax returns was a sign that the risk of disclosure was higher than the risk of stonewalling. “I do not know why, given that Mitt Romney knew the day that [John] McCain lost in 2008 that he was going to run for president again that he didn’t get all of this out and tidy up some of his offshore accounts and all the rest,” Will helpfully said.
  • The Wall Street Journal editorial page (aka Rupert Murdoch) has consistently shown its disdain for Romney and the campaign he is running. Eviscerating Romney’s argument that can handle the economy because of his success as a businessman, the Journal said “candidates who live by biography typically lose by it. See President John Kerry.”
  •  Bill Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard and the man who brought us Sarah Palin, cited polls last month to show that Romney’s campaign is failing to make any headway against Obama, despite the faltering economy. “I don’t think you can beat an incumbent president, even if the economy is slow, if 27 percent of the voters think you as the challenger don’t have a clear plan for improving the economy,” Kristol opined.

We could go on.

None of these guys shoots from the hip: They know exactly what they’re saying and have calculated its effect to the tenth decimal place. They are not Joe (“Oops, did I say that?”) Biden. What we are seeing is a pattern in which GOP thought-leaders feel free to point out Romney’s flaws, even if doing so plays into the hands of his critics.

All of this points to a fundamental problem for Romney: he doesn’t command the loyalty of his own party. In part, this may be due to his squishy conservative credentials. Romney’s personality may also play a part. By several accounts, a lot of Republicans who know Romney dislike him. He has, in the words of conservative writer Jonah Goldberg, “an authentic inauthenticity problem,” accentuated by his own personal awkwardness. (That a conservative writer would even say that is another example of the loyalty gap.) A regular guy, Mitt is not.

But the party’s discipline always papered over those kind of problems. You won’t remember any Republicans suggesting that George W. Bush was a dim bulb in 2000 for not pulling away from Al Gore in the final stretch. Romney’s lackluster support, reflected in a string of lukewarm endorsements even from prospective VP choices, is particularly striking given the party’s visceral desire to throw Obama out of the White House (and possibly the country). Even that prospect doesn’t seem to overcome a lack of faith in Romney.

Romney has always been a lousy candidate, and when defeat is in the air, self-preservation trumps party loyalty. Better to say, “I told you so,” than to pretend it will all come out alright. Still, that’s another sign that Romney has a huge uphill climb ahead of him. Yes, it’s a close race and Romney can still pull it off, but his own party is sending strong signals that it doesn’t think he’s going to be moving into the White House in January. That’s not a good sign for Romney–but it may be for everyone else.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore