Mitt Makes It Official

In the wake of bleak economic news, Romney positions as economic savior.

Mitt Romney, as expected, announced his intention to run for the White House in 2012. Introduced by his wife Anne to a crowd of supporters in Stratham, NH, the former governor of Massachusetts delivered the opening salvo of his campaign. "Barack Obama has failed America," he said. Romney joins a crowded field of contenders, including former Utah Governor John Huntsman, and Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) who, along with possible candidate Sarah Palin, are blitzing the Granite State. Other potential candidates include former CEO of Godfather's Pizza chain Herman Cain, Texas Governor Rick Perry, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

As of now, Romney is the leader of the pack, due in large part to his previous candidacy in 2008, and his name recognition. Yet he is emblematic of a Republican field in which each candidate has something to offer, but each carries around some sort of perceived baggage that may prove ultimately detrimental, as Americans begin to pay closer attention.

Romney's baggage, as least as far as the conservative wing of the Republican party is concerned, might be better described as a steamer trunk: the Massachusetts healthcare reform bill he signed into law in 2006. Now known derisively as RomneyCare, the law contains the same mandate forcing individuals to buy health insurance as ObamaCare does, a reality which drives conservatives crazy. Adding to Romney's woes is the fact that Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod recently noted that RomneyCare was the blueprint for ObamaCare.

Yet rather than distance himself from the plan, Romney has gone on the offensive, contending it was "a state solution to a state problem, and [president Obama's] plan is a power grab by the federal government to put a one-size-fits-all plan across the nation," as he told a group of doctors and other supporters at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor in May. He reiterated the "state solution to a state problem" motif in his speech yesterday, even as he admitted the program was "not perfect."

Whether his efforts to defuse his biggest liability plays with Tea Party conservatives remains to be seen, but during his speech he offered much that is attractive to that part of the Republican base. "Turning around a crisis takes bold action...I will cap federal spending at 20 percent or less of the economy, and finally, finally balance the budget...My generation will pass the torch to the next generation, not a bill...and that will begin with a complete repeal of ObamaCare," said Romney to a crowd of cheering supporters.

Noting that he intends to make America "number one in job creation," Mr. Romney took another obvious swipe at the president. "You know, if you want to create jobs, it helps to have actually had a job. I had one," he cracked. He then directed his fire at one of the Mr. Obama's core constituencies. "It's time for a president who cares more about America's workers than about America's union bosses," he added.

Romney spoke about his father "who never graduated college" yet went on to be the owner of a car company and "end[ed] up governor in the state where he sold aluminum paint," because America "was the land of opportunity." Mr. Romney then took on the president yet again, this time for Mr. Obama's take on American exceptionalism. "I refuse to believe America is just another place on the map with a flag. We stand for freedom and opportunity and hope," he said, adding that while "we may have lost a couple of years, we have not lost our way." He ended his speech with the announcement of his candidacy.

Can Romney capture the nomination? He certainly says many of the right things in terms of economics. Perhaps just as importantly, in a time where the Obama administration has shown a grim determination to undermine states' rights, best exemplified by the immigration lawsuit against Arizona, the NLRB's lawsuit against Boeing, and yesterday's White House rejection of an Indiana law cutting off abortion funding for Planned Parenthood, Romney's determination to "return the responsibility and authority to the states for dozens of programs," is sure to resonate. So are his economic credentials this time around, as opposed to the 2008, where prior to the financial crisis which occurred after McCain was nominated, national security issues were far more important.

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