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Democrats wasted no time in criticizing the candidate. Prior to his announcement in New Hampshire, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) released a video highlighting his flip-flops on various issues, noting that “as a corporate raider to his time as governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney has failed to create jobs.” Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party echoed that sentiment. ”The reason Granite Staters rejected him three years ago remains the same today: they believe he is a wishy-washy, flip-flopping politician who will say anything or take any position to suit his own immediate political needs,” he said.
One of his potential Republican rivals also piled on. “He makes a good argument there that states’ rights and authority and responsibility allowed in our states makes more sense than big centralized government telling us what to do,” said Sarah Palin in reference to the Massachusetts health care plan. “However, even on a state level and a local level, mandates coming from a governing body–it’s tough for a lot of us independent Americans to accept[.]” Palin, who has yet to indicate whether or not she intends to seek the nomination, claimed it was “coincidental” that her highly publicized bus tour was headed for a clambake on the New Hampshire coast the same day as Romney’s announcement. “I don’t believe that Gov. Romney is offended at all,” Palin contended.
Probably not — at least for now. In virtually every poll conducted so far, Romney’s position as the number one candidate allows him, for the time being at least, to remain somewhat above the fray until the field winnows itself down to the point where candidates consistently polling at the bottom of the field either start moving up — or moving on.
In addition to his flexibility on the issues and the albatross that is RomneyCare, Romney’s other well-publicized liability is his religion. Mormonism still makes many Americans uncomfortable, but there are mitigating factors this time around that weren’t there in 2008. First, another Republican candidate, Utah Governor John Huntsman, is also a Mormon, which will take some of the focus off Romney. Second, people have had four more years to get used to the idea of a Mormon candidate. Third, assuming Romney is the GOP standard-bearer, there is likely to be just as much focus on Barack Obama’s religious leanings, highlighted by the fact that as late as August 2010, one-in-five American incorrectly believed that that the president was a Muslim. In a head-to-head match-up, the bet here is that the religious issues surrounding both candidates, no matter how much suspicions trump reality, cancel each other out.
Mitt has two other liabilities that are less emphasized. One is not attributable to him directly. It concerns the Republican Party’s frustrating tradition of giving the nod to the “next candidate in line.” For better or worse, Mitt Romney is that guy in 2012. That he is the “senior” candidate in a year where so many Republicans are yearning for new blood is a definite minus, more than illuminated by the brief, but attention-grabbing pseudo-campaign of Donald Trump. This week’s attempt to draft another GOP newcomer, New Jersey Governor Chis Christie, despite an already over-crowded field of candidates, is a further sign that being the current GOP front-runner may not be as intrinsically valuable as it may seem.
Romney’s other liability? An aloofness that, while difficult to define, seems to be an integral part of the overall equation. Even as he says many of the things Republicans want to hear, just as he did in his speech yesterday, one gets the sense that he remains unable to connect to people with the kind of passion that inspires a nation. It is the kind of connection that is as effortless for the likes of a Sarah Palin as it is difficult for Mitt Romney. How important is the “it factor?” In an election many Americans consider one of the most important of their lifetimes, being a calm and reasonable candidate instead of a hard-hitting, charismatic firebrand may his biggest hurdle to overcome. On the other hand, a majority of Americans may have come to realize what electing a president based on charisma–and little else–gets them.
Arnold Ahlert is a contributing columnist to the conservative website JewishWorldReview.com.
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