Has Mitt Romney got what it takes?
- 29 May 2012
- From the section US & Canada
Mitt Romney looks the part. He seems the sort of guy Hollywood would once have cast to play a president.
Confident, distinguished and handsome, with an easy smile. The father of the nation.
The White House are hoping that cosy picture will hurt him, and will try to turn it into a vulnerability.
When Mr Romney crosses the Texas finishing line he will be that much closer to becoming America's 45th president in reality.
Opinion polls suggest that President Barack Obama and Mr Romney are pretty much neck and neck.
'A regular guy'?
It is not surprising the Obama White House is ready for him. After all, he has always been the Republican front-runner, the one the most level-headed pundits have always thought would be the Republican candidate in the end.
But that end has been a while coming. It has been a bitter, gruelling fight as conservatives tried one candidate after another to find someone closer to their taste.
The central problem was that they were not sure that in his heart, he was a real conservative. He was accused of flip-flopping on a whole host of issues.
That will matter less now and his other weakness will matter more.
He has, so far, failed to inspire. He is a good debater but only a patchy speaker. He doesn't have "it" - he is not a candidate bathed in charisma.
The Democrats are making much of his privileged background and how he made his money. To borrow a phrase from the late Ann Richards, former governor of Texas, about former President George W Bush: sometimes it seems he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.
When failing to connect with the blue collar lovers of Nascar motor racing, he said he didn't follow the sport but some of his friends owned teams.
When things looked awkward with car workers in Detroit he said he understood them because his wife owns a couple of Cadillacs.
He also said he liked firing people. It was a joke, taken grotesquely out of context, but not one a politician more finely attuned to the times and his own vulnerabilities would have made.
Americans do not resent the rich. They are not automatically suspicious of wealthy politicians. But they do like them to wear cowboy boots, speak in homespun phrases and suggest they are just regular guys at heart.
The most memorable picture of Mr Romney (one under heavy copyright restrictions, so you will not see it as often as his opponents would like) is of a team from Bain Capital, the private equity firm he once led, with dollar notes stuffed in their suit jackets, over-flowing from their pockets.
That Mr Romney is not seen as a man of the people is one vulnerability Mr Obama's team will exploit. So is the way he made his millions. The nature of Bain Capital has been hotly debated for months, with opponents accusing it of asset-stripping, vulture capitalism and sacking workers to make a quick buck.
'Back to the 50s'?
At the end of the recent, important Nato conference Mr Obama seemed delighted to turn to domestic politics and made a full-blown attack on Mr Romney.
Of his campaign's attacks on Mr Romney's record at Bain Capital, he said: ''This is not a distraction. This is what this campaign is going to be about."
Quite a claim. It is going to be what the campaign is all about. What Mr Obama went on to spell out is that the campaign would be about giving a fair deal for all of the people, not about how best to make money for a few.
The Obama team also wants to promote the image of Mr Romney as very right wing.
Not simply conservative but old-fashioned. The out-of-touch old guy who would bring back the past. In an excellent, if long, article the New York Magazine quotes an unnamed Obama strategist: "He's the fifties, he is retro, he is backward, and we are forward—that's the basic construct."
"If you're a woman, you're Hispanic, you're young, or you've gotten left out, you look at Romney and say, 'This guy is gonna take us back to the way it always was, and guess what? I've never been part of that.'"
Perhaps Mr Romney is the sort of guy Hollywood's central casting would once have sent for, but who now doesn't look like a lot of the country.
Perhaps in a blockbuster these days they would not automatically cast a 65-year-old white man. That is, in part, the White House case against Mr Romney.
It may work. Yet every time I watch Mr Romney he seems a little sharper. Perhaps the friction of a harsh primary has honed him, sharpened the steel, made him more careful not to cut himself.
But there is work for his team. They have decided what they are against, but not quite what their man is for.
Not his policies, but his appeal. They have not come up with a coherent narrative that acknowledges or answers his weakness, that parries Mr Obama's feints.
When Texas Tuesday is out of the way, we may see some of their answers.