Congratulations to Mitt Romney for his big win last night. It was a win that, Romney supporters hoped, would help bury concerns about his ability to seal the deal to do what it takes. But I’m not so sure. If you’re a straight-laced grown-up with money to burn, burying Newt Gingrich shouldn’t be that hard. Romney talked about the economy, Newt about lunar statehood (which I favor!). Romney drowned Gingrich in negative ads and Gingrich supplied endless fodder for the accurate ones and plausibility for the inaccurate ones. Was that really the test of his political chops everyone is saying?
As a bunch of us have been writing around here for a while, the under-emphasized dynamic in this race isn’t that Romney isn’t conservative enough (though that’s obviously a real concern out there) it’s that he’s simply not a good enough politician. He may be the most electable on paper. He’s certainly a nice guy, decent father, smart, successful etc. But, every time he seems to get into his groove and pull away he says things that make people think he doesn’t know how to play the game. That can be reassuring to some, who take it as proof he’s not another politician. The problem, for others at least, is that because he isn’t a natural politician he breaks the language where it needs to bend. He uses language — “I like to fire people!” “It’s nothing to get angry about” etc — that doesn’t make him seem like an unconventional politician. Rather his language makes him seem like a caricature of a conventionally stiff country club Republican.
A case in point, here he is this morning talking about how he’s “not very concerned about the very poor” (video here). I get the point he’s making. It’s a point that Bill Clinton won the presidency with — but with language that attracted voters. Romney’s language won’t do anything of the sort. And the concern is, after nearly a decade of running for president, if he can’t get this stuff down now he never will.
After winning the Florida primary, GOP presidential nominee hopeful Mitt Romney explains to CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien that he is focused on a particular portion of the American population in his campaign.
Romney says, “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs a repair , I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich…. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”
O’Brien asked him to clarify his remarks saying, “There are lots of very poor Americans who are struggling who would say, ‘That sounds odd.’”
Romney continues, “We will hear from the Democrat party, the plight of the poor…. You can focus on the very poor, that’s not my focus…. The middle income Americans, they’re the folks that are really struggling right now and they need someone that can help get this economy going for them.”
Again, I’d happily vote for Romney over Obama. And I’d be fine with Romney crushing Obama with negative ads, if that was remotely possible. And there are plenty of things one could say to defend Romney on the merits of what he says here. But great politicians on the morning after a big win, don’t force their supporters to go around defending the candidate from the charge that he doesn’t care about the poor. They just don’t.