Barack Obama coasted to electoral victory in 2008 on the phrases “Hope and Change” and “Yes We Can!”, but it appears that in 2012, his winning campaign slogans could instead be “I like the ability to fire people” and “I’m not concerned about the very poor.”
Of course, these aren’t his words. They’re the words of his potential opponent in the general election, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Romney’s seeming callousness toward poor and unemployed Americans has gone viral among left-wing pundits and social media users, and this is a major problem. As much as conservatives may quibble about context and Romney’s actual intentions, we must keep in mind that Romney will be facing the same electorate that voted Obama into office in 2008–the same electorate that believed Sarah Palin, not Tina Fey, said, “I can see Russia from my house.”
[youtube zyWh8YNFBWc nolink]
The voters of 2012 will, by and large, not choose a candidate based on proposed policies and governing records; they will choose based on a simple narrative, a log line that makes the case for one’s candidacy in as few words as possible. In 2008, Obama’s was “First Black President.” McCain’s was “Veteran Endured Torture, Served His Country With Honor,” and Palin’s was “Ordinary Mother Rose to Governorship.” By the same token, candidates craft counter-narratives about their opponents. The anti-Obama narrative, “Too Radical, Too Inexperienced,” did not stick, and the anti-Palin narrative, “Stupid,” did, thanks almost wholly to the shameless left-wing advocacy of the mainstream media.
It is an unfortunate fact that having the truth on our side is not enough. Not every voter is as informed as those of us who follow politics religiously; we are the exception to the rule. Nationwide elections such as this are decided not based on truth but the perception of truth, and while I do not say this to justify deception by the Republican Party’s eventual nominee, that individual must be able to withstand the deception and false impressions presented by Obama and his media proxies.
With those facts on the table, it follows that among the four remaining GOP candidates, Mitt Romney is the weakest possible one to run against Obama. The pro-Romney narrative is “Experienced Businessman, Centrist Governor,” and if that were all there was to the election, that would make him our most electable candidate. However, the counter-narrative will destroy him. Obama can no longer run on “First Black President.” He can’t inspire based on “Hope and Change” after allowing the country to stagnate for four years. His reelection rests solely on his counter-narrative to the Republican candidate, and the primary facet of his response to Romney will be “Privileged, Rich, Out of Touch.”
Mitt Romney is the son of a governor who was a rich businessman in his own right. He went to a ritzy private school. He has an Ivy League MBA. He co-founded Bain Capital, a venture capitalist firm that some have labeled as predatory. He has stated he pays an effective income tax rate of 15 percent. He has stated he’s “not concerned about the very poor” and that he “likes the ability to fire people.” At a time when many people are struggling to pay the mortgages on their homes, Romney owns six.
Yes, these things don’t matter to us as conservatives. We don’t begrudge anyone their wealth, we believe in capitalism, and we know all the intricacies of his capital gains taxes and generous charity that mitigate the “15 percent tax rate” bit. But the average voter will not spend the time or effort figuring this out. They will hear these talking points, believe them, and regurgitate them, and it will destroy Romney’s candidacy.
Romney plays right into the left’s overarching narratives–the moral outrage at Wall Street’s opulence, the envy of millionaires “born into” their wealth, the disconnect between the GOP and the poor. He provides a villain and scapegoat for Obama’s campaign. And he does this not because these talking points can be used against him but because he can’t rebut them effectively on the national stage.
Consider how he whiffed the question about releasing his tax returns in South Carolina’s CNN debate, eliciting boos from the audience. That issue had been making its way around the press for weeks; he had time to prepare a believable excuse if not a compelling defense. When George Stephanopoulos asked him about banning contraception, the sheer silliness of the question was all that kept Romney from looking like the bigger fool in the exchange, feebly protesting for minutes as the former Clinton adviser pushed the question again and again. When Mitt squares off with lefty journalists, he doesn’t come out on top, which means they will get to define him with Obama’s counter-narrative. That was a campaign killer for Sarah Palin, and it will be for Governor Romney, too.
Romney has other electability weaknesses; until recently, he’s held off on personally going negative, relying on PACs and other proxies to attack his opponents for him. This lends credence to the left’s Citizens United boogeyman, the narrative that evil billionaire corporatists like the Koch brothers are trying to buy the election. And his Mormonism is a liability, as well–not because of anti-LDS prejudices among the electorate, but because it will give Obama the ability to play the race card effectively. “The Mormon church did not allow blacks to serve as priests until 1978; why was Romney part of the church prior to that?”, the media will ask. It’s a troubling Catch-22; he can’t denounce his own faith, and he likely can’t point to a record of pushing for that change prior to ’78.
We need not kid ourselves; faced with what Andrew Breitbart calls the Democrat-Media complex, the Republican Party needs a candidate that will not be playing defense the whole time–a candidate who can put Obama and his proxies on the ropes, controlling the national dialogue instead of reacting to it. And Mitt Romney’s gaffes and inability to transcend the labels that will inevitably come from the left–“Privileged,” “Out of Touch,” and “Racist”–should give serious pause to those convinced of his electability.
To make an analogy from Mr. Romney’s own past, one can be a missionary in France who’s the most brilliant theologian and apologist ever, but if he can’t speak the language, he’s sunk. In the same way, one can be the most likable, moderate, competent governor in a field of candidates, but if he can’t effectively counter the narrative opposition and instead personifies their stereotypes, he and his entire party is sunk.