Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Breaking Down the Robot: Who is Mitt Romney?

Mitt Romney reclaimed his status as the GOP front-runner with a decisive victory in Florida, but he continues to exhibit characteristics of a weak standard-bearer both on a personal and a political level. The Romney campaign has developed into an interesting experiment on personal narrative development, image consciousness, and the difficulties of flawless execution - a machine that can only be truly understood by tracing its roots back to the days of Willard Romney.
Picture from The Reaction
Willard "Mitt" Romney was born the son of Michigan Governor George W. Romney and Lenore Romney on March 12, 1947 and named after Willard Marriott, his father's best friend and the namesake for the omnipresent Marriott chain.

Mitt's campaign has shed sparingly little light on his childhood, likely to skirt discussion on the privileged life that the Romney family led. His father, a devoted Mormon and a hero of the automobile industry for turning around American Motors, was an excellent role model to the aspiring young Mitt. As he matured, he followed in the Michigan Governor's footsteps by becoming a Mormon missionary in Europe. The experience was tragically life-altering.

Romney was a gifted missionary, blessed with good looks, charisma, and a work ethic that helped him to quickly distinguish himself in France. In June 1968, Romney was at the wheel of a fully-loaded car struck by another priest. The wife of the mission president was killed and Romney, too, was pronounced dead on the scene. Not only were the doctors wrong, but Romney made a full recovery and became an acting president of the missionary.

When he returned to the United States after thirty months proselytizing abroad, Romney was a changed man. “On a mission, your faith in Jesus Christ either evaporates or it becomes much deeper,” he said. “For me it became much deeper.” What did not change, however, was his love for Ann Davies. Mitt and Ann Romney married shortly after his return.

Romney finished his undergraduate education at Bingham Young University and subsequently enrolled in Harvard's JD/MBA program. Upon graduating he joined the flock of entrants into the consulting field, starting with the upstart Boston Consulting Group before being poached away by Bain & Co.

The Bain experience would prove to be lucrative for Romney and, without pun, a bane of his campaign. Mitt made no mince of the fact that he enjoyed wealth, posing in a well-circulated photo of Mitt and friends posing with money coming out of every orifice.
"Greed is good."

Romney's record at Bain has caused a media uproar. While he is running on a record of job creation, there are countless allegations with legs out there that would contest that he created any jobs at all. One Forbes article painted a picture about the plan Romney built for Bain:
1. Bain Capital would plunge a company into massive debt.
2. Bain would pull out massive fees.
3. The company would be pushed into bankruptcy.
4. Bain would then purge the company of hundreds or even thousands of workers.
The work that Romney largely engaged in at Bain has been chided as "vulture capitalism" by Democrats and Republicans alike, most recently by Rick Perry. Perry explained that jobs were looted in his state by vulture capitalists like Romney, who were "picking their bones clean." Especially in states of high unemployment, a vulture capitalist label could drag down the Republican ticket.

TJ Walker, the author of the aforementioned article, created an attack ad based on that formula against Romney to demonstrate just how easily Romney's flimsy ties to the average American can be severed.

The fact is that Romney is not, by any stretch of the word, an ordinary American. The Associated Press recently reported that to even reach Romney territory, you have to combine the net worth of the last eight Presidents - and double it. That would make Romney one of the richest candidates ever and put him in the same stratosphere as George Washington, who basically owned Virginia. While the Romney campaign would like to portray Mitt's money as the realization of the fabled American Dream, allegations of job slashing for personal gain have rendered that hope moot.

Another issue that Mitt has had with explaining his Bain career is that he oftentimes seems callous about his work. While reorganizing corporations to make them more profitable, Romney had to cut jobs. That's perfectly understandable. But Romney has a tendency to downplay his role and relate to concerned Americans, with notable quotes like "corporations are people, my friend," "I'm also unemployed," and, most famously, "I like being able to fire people."

Perhaps too much is made out of a quote now and then, but the Romney campaign has been plagued by the notion that these may be the times when the real Mitt is actually coming out. Just in the last few days a brouhaha transpired over a CNN interview in which he said that he is "not worried about poor people because they have a safety net."

The Romney quotes provide ample material for concern among his campaign decision-makers. While it is undeniable that he knew how to make money for himself, his job creation record post-Bain as Massachusetts Governor ranked 47th in the nation, a figure that Walker alludes to as he explains why Romney is running exclusively on his Bain record. If Romney is asking the American people to make a value judgement on his business savvy by looking to Bain, he may have a difficult time appealing to the 99%.

But it is not simply his Bain record that makes the Romney image so difficult to shape. Romney claims to be the only candidate who is not a politician, yet his history, actions, and decisions can be portrayed otherwise.

Romney was born into a political family. His father was the Michigan Governor, the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and a presidential candidate, while his mother ran, unsuccessfully, for Senate. He was surrounded by politics growing up and has proven to be undeniably calculating in his own career moves.

The 1994 Senate race against Senator Ted Kennedy, he of Kennedy lore and considered the Lion of the Senate, helped Mitt generate the name recognition and the respect among Massachusetts Republicans he needed to launch a campaign for governor in 2002. Following his win Romney proceeded to navigate an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature to pass his key note legislation, health care reform. However, this accomplishment proved to be insufficient when stacked up against the relative lack of job growth in the state, and polling showed that, by and large, Romney was going to lose the Governor's Mansion in 2006. With the writing on the wall, Mitt opted against running for governor again and instead got a two year head-start on campaigning for the presidency.

The single biggest issue that the Romney campaign had in 2008 was how to tone down the moderate rhetoric that helped Romney govern Massachusetts to appeal to Republican conservatives in the primaries and, still, without affecting his favorability with independents. The task has proven momentous at its easiest points. While a lack of organization dogged Romney early in the campaign cycle in 2008, he has bounced back in full force this cycle.

Mitt Romney has made a full time job out of running for President, as November 2012 will mark the end of his sixth straight year of campaigning. Unlike in 2008 Mitt has the organization and the money to win it, but independents and conservatives are both distrusting of a man that has spent the last few years running from his record, distorting the truth, and pandering to his audiences.

While Romney campaigns with a priority to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the liberal thinktank ThinkProgress cites a report from John McDonough (formerly of Health Care for All) as identifying "RomneyCare" and "ObamaCare" as fraternal twins separated at birth. Romney has threatened over and over again to essentially repeal the same legislation he championed in Massachusetts.

A recent Romney debate performance irked some 2008 McCain staffers, who responded to a slight against their candidate by releasing a confidential opposition research file that had been compiled about Mitt. While Romney is a well-documented flip-flopper, the file's release serves to confirm that he holds little goodwill in the party and that even the GOP leadership does not trust him.

On the trail, too, Romney has done some things that alarmed observers. He has changed his views on everything from immigration to global warming, and his propensity to "become enlightened" is a regularly occurrence based on the tidings of the day.

Speaking to Hispanics in South Florida, Romney showed a willingness to stretch the truth in telling a Latin crowd that he is of Mexican American descent because his father was born in Mexico to American parents during a Mormon mission.

The campaign's burden, trying to shape a moderate Republican into a conservative and get him elected, has proven difficult with the record the he has on the books. These are the reasons why Romney has yet to gain the benefit of the doubt when he says things like, "there were a couple of times when I was worried about getting the pink slip." The truth is that most people simply don't know which Mitt is the real Mitt and they are reticent to trust a guy who has fabled record of flip-flopping on issues to appeal to certain demographics.

Looking forward, too, Mitt has trouble on the horizon. The Romney camp released his tax returns at such a time when they thought the State of the Union would gobble up the entire news cycle. That proved to be a massive miscalculation as the President would call for a minimum 30% tax rate on all income earners over $1M annually, right after Mitt's information showed his payments at a paltry 13.9% of his $21.7 million earned last year.

His PR issues were further compounded by two additional factors. First, in 1968 George Romney set the bar at releasing twelve years of tax returns, whereas the younger Romney was only willing to cough up one year of documents. Second, Romney was found harboring money in the Cayman Islands, a finesse move mainly associated with tax evaders. As the issue of taxes is likely to come up early and often throughout the campaign cycle, Romney is likely going to be doing more explaining his personal finances than presenting his own tax plan.

Even presenting his policy ideas will prove difficult though. On the subject of his personal tax returns, for example, Romney has set himself up to be excoriated. His tax cuts place the burden of revenue enhancements on the backs of the less fortunate, drastically cutting taxes for the top one percent of wage earners like himself.

Trouble still is that Republicans still seem to have a problem with Romney's character. They are concerned, however fairly it may be, about his ties to the Church of the Latter Day Saints, and about his lack of denouncing some Mormon practices that are racist. They are concerned with his lack of fight, opting against running for re-election in 2006 and hiding in the late part of summer in a vain attempt to maintain his frontrunner status. And they are concerned with the image of all of the candidates as they bloody each other up in the primary.

In Florida alone, Gingrich alleges that Romney outspent him five to one in a massively negative campaign to take the battleground state. Incredibly, the numbers broke down such that more than 90% of the political ads run in Florida were negative, with more than two-thirds of those attacking Gingrich. Pro-Gingrich ads accounted for about 9% of the ad buys. The statistic of the campaign: 0.1% of ads were pro-Romney, and that was all of one clip, run 17 total times, in Spanish.

If the Florida strategy should be taken at face value, it demonstrates that the Republican primary will not be a battle of the best, but rather a war of attrition. GOP leadership is concerned because they are reading the same polls that the rest of America is reading. While Romney and Gingrich have seen their favorability plummet, the President has benefited in popularity from their infighting.

All of this shapes up to be an incredibly difficult race for the Romney staffers. The attempts to create a appealing personal narrative have been picked over time and time again by his Republican competitors, the President's campaign, and the media. The campaign that has been so driven by image consciousness and maintaining a sense of self has witnessed a number of Mitt's stumblings and bumblings that have made a fantasy out of the hope to win through flawless execution.

Willard "Mitt" Romney had the makings of the ideal presidential candidate as a youth and, if not for corporate greed and lack of conviction, the Republican primary could have been a cake walk.


  1. his tax cut for the wealthy only would also exacerbate the deficit much like fmr. President Bush's tax cut for the wealthy

  2. Tax cuts dont exacerbate the deficit if spending is cut. That was Bushs mistake. In any case, Mittens hasnt a chance in hell of beating Obama.


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