Judging by the Obama camp’s assorted efforts to prepare the ground for McCain’s VP choice on Friday, they seem to be terrified of Mitt Romney. They’ve got some good lines about him, to be sure, but more striking than what they say is that he’s all they talk about.
The basic line of attack is that he’s 1) rich and 2) a former investment banker whose work involved restructuring failing companies in ways that in some important instances consisted of firing lots of workers. The first is silly, and if the Democrats think their “McCain is rich” attack has been working, they’re not paying attention. Look for McCain’s team to use Joe Biden’s “I’m not Barack Obama rich” line from one of the Democratic debates on this front, but on the whole it hasn’t been much of an issue so far. But the second line of attack is of course a potentially genuine and deep well for them.
Romney’s general response in the past, which has been to explain in a slightly condescending tone what private equity and venture capital firms do, how the American economy works, and how many jobs Bain Capital helped create while he was there, could actually be fairly effective, as it would tend to reinforce his expertise on economic matters and his “I’ve actually had a real job, you know” credentials. But ‘fairly effective’ doesn’t mean the problem goes away. The charge is a real issue.
McCain’s basic strength against Obama is that he seems more solid and experienced, and Romney certainly helps on that front. His biggest weaknesses are that he seems (and is) old and that he seems detached from some of the domestic issues that matter to the middle class. He has tried to turn the first weakness into a strength, given Obama’s inexperience, and has probably done that reasonably well so far. But the second weakness is real. Romney could help him with it on the one hand, as he’s very knowledgeable about the economy and pretty knowledgeable about domestic policy in general, but the question is whether he hurts by seeming to be the evil tycoon crushing the little guy. If the country were as obsessed with the rich vs. poor narrative as the Democrats in Denver are this week, it would certainly be a big problem. But if that were the case, Democrats would win the presidency more often than they do.
On the whole, Romney seems like a good fit for McCain’s basic campaign pitch against Obama. He has an extremely impressive resume and a whole lot of experience managing and running things well and turning around failing institutions—which is roughly the substance of McCain’s domestic agenda at this point. He’s surely not without serious flaws and downsides, and by no means a thrilling or even interesting pick; but a good fit for what they’re trying to do, which at the moment seems more or less to be working.
The Democrats seem to see that too.