Has Mitt Romney got what it takes?

US President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney combination picture Mitt Romney is expected to rack up the 1,144 delegates he needs to become the official Republican challenger to Barack Obama in Tuesday's Texas primary

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.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell Presenter, The World This Weekend

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  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    "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."

    Oh, come ON, Mardell! You realize not all of us live in Texas, right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Thank you for the link to the excellent NY mag article, Mr Mardell. A fascinating, illumination piece of journalism. Most revealing & a real window into American politics & the people who shape them. Rather terrifying to consider that the same types of personalities who run these wild & brutal elections then also get to make policy...

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Least of all in America, firing people should not by any means be a taboo subject in what is already rapidly morphing into a decade of record unemployment. All Americans know at least 1 person who does not belong in the job they have (often this person is an incompetent teacher who got the job through croneyism, not qualifications); inUSwe ea also know at least 3 unemployed who deserve great jobs!

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    What is not reported here is that Ron Paul has most of the delegates to the republican convention. On the first vote, Romney may or may not get the full number of delegates he needs (1400+); these delegates are not committed on the second vote. There are other significant developments that underscore the convention will be brokered, despite the 'beauty contest' this report focuses on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Dr Bob, 38: By definition, God is never "confused," although He might object frequently to humans' exercise of Free Will. 7th chapter of the Matthew Gospel tells would-be Christians explicitly that there is a huge difference between claiming to be 'Christian' & actually being one. As with economic policy, results & substance matter more than showmanship. In the end, Reality cannot be wished away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    The American Religious Right party knows everything about working with Godless Communist Chinese, and all other religions, too.

    Now, if you believe that...

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Personally, I watched MR as MA Gov: he was quite good. Now raising the question of reform & accountability in Education, he has my attention. Ed is an area where radical, redemptive, cost-cutting transformation in the US is possible, eliminating waste while also stimulating spending, e.g. by installing cameras in every classroom to monitor proceedings. MR has a chance. This will be interesting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Romney is out of touch with nearly everyone except the 1%. He enjoys his wealth (nothing wrong with that), yet he seems incapable of seeing how it skews his view of the world (something VERY wrong with that).

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Sukiyaki God is probably very, very confused when he sees the antics of some of the born again christian neofacists in the USA.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Very Strange headline Has Romney got what it takes. Can be answered a number of ways depending on the rest of the question. A war? Yes knowing the Republicans its just a choice of country. To offer hope to the average American? Since when did the Republicans help the average American? To stand up for human rights? Republicans don't do human rights, except for Goldman Sachs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    BillinNY missed the Mardell's point -- in the 1950s most Latinos and Blacks were not enjoying the booming economy. Women were under their husbands' thumbs. Gays were just suicidal. This is a different world and Mardell put his finger on it -- I just don't see Romney's future vision. The past is not all bright and shining.

  • Comment number 35.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Romney has not clinched the nomination - not even close.
    The figures that everyone including the BBC are citing are from AP, who mistakenly thought the straw poll results are binding, when in fact State Conventions are where the delegates are won. Ron Paul won more than people realise, Romney won a lot less, and the VAST majority of delegates are still up for grabs. This nomination will be close.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    The contest for the Oval Office between Romney and Obama is most likely to be swallowed on Character assassination than success and building America.So far this kind approach has divided the Nation shadowing its historical greatness.The coming Election should focus to pick the LEADER that stands for America, with America and by America.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Obama will win the '12 election because it is known what compromises he will make, and Romney is expected to compromise, but to what extent?

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    A return to the 50's; do you mean a time when our economy was booming, jobs were readily available, families could do well on just one income, houses were afforable, people treated each other with respect, there was litlle government interference in everday life and the USA was a global leader?
    Doesn't sound too bad to me.

  • Comment number 30.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Romney can not campain on what he's for, as he only recites empty rhetoric. Thay is why all of has campaigns are based upon negative advertizing.

  • Comment number 28.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.


    Mardell believes it is blasphemy to think that Barack Obama does not have what it takes to be the president of the United States.His argument on Romney begins with this article of faith.

    What utter nonsensical drivel. The article is above in black and white for those on this planet to see.

    Fantasy Island's on. The Waltons will be on soon.


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