Everyone's Got Advice for Politically-Challenged Mitt Romney

Everybody talks about Rick Perry but no one knows what to do about him

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Despite a huge fundraising advantage and about a four-year head start in campaigning, Mitt Romney has spent the whole year being outshined by a series of rivals for the Republican presidential nomination. Rick Perry, however, is the first one to beat him in national polls. What's Romney's problem? It could be that he sucks at politics. The sudden rise of Perry has got everyone offering poor old Romney unsolicited advice on how to get better.

How can Romney take Perry down? His campaign reportedly wants to portray Perry as a career politician who's too soft on immigration and too conservative on everything else. But everyone on the Internet thinks that strategy is bad. US News's Scott Galupo writes that Romney can't campaign to Perry's left and his right at the same time. And the National Review wrote that the "career pol" charge won't stick either, since Romney's been running for president since 2006. Conservative writer Jonathan Last agrees:

"...Romney would have been a career politician too, if only voters would have let him. He’s been running since 1994. His real gripe about Perry is actually, 'Hey, that guy wins all the time! No fair!'"

Last explains that Romney's real problem is that he's just bad at politics. His biggest political victories were losing by only 17 points to Ted Kennedy in 1994 after spending $7 million of his own money, and winning the 2002 Massachusetts governor's race--with just 49.77 percent of the vote. "Even in the biggest win of his life, he couldn't capture more than 50% of the vote," Last writes. And every time he runs, Romney adopts a different persona--the technocrat first, then he hard-line conservative. Romney has "no constituency because he's not very good at campaigning and, as the electoral results of the last 17 years have shown, voters don’t like him very much." How can Romney fix that?

House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy urged Romney to roam amongst the common people. Stay in volunteers' homes, not hotels, he said, plus "His job should be to take out the trash every day, and if that bag breaks, he needs to clean it up." Romney's tried recently to seem more like a regular dude. But the results always seem a bit off. Like when he tweeted a photo of himself eating a Subway sandwich:

Or tweeted that he enjoyed his flight on Southwest Airlines. Southwest! They don't even have first class.

The New Republic's Jonathan Chait argues that Last is a bit harsh--it's pretty hard to be a Republican in Massachusetts. "Romney is a below-average presidential nominee, but that this has been obscured by the competition, which he towers above," Chait writes. And yet now Romney's blurring the one thing that made him better than Perry, Michele Bachmann, and the rest of the Tea Partying field.

The New Republic's William Galston argues that Romney should demonstrate that Perry "is too extreme to be elected president." His slogan should effectively be, "Rick Perry wants to repeal the 20th century. I don't. And neither do the American people." Politico's Ben Smith thinks that's good advice, since Romney can't out-conservative Perry. But "This isn't, it should be noted, what [Romney's] doing with a Tea Party event in New Hampshire this weekend."
That event is a Tea Party Express rally Sunday, followed by a candidate forum hosted by the Tea Partying Senator Jim DeMint in South Carolina. Romney "can't lose by 20 points here," South Carolina Republican strategist Chip Felkel told The Christian Science Monitor's Linda Feldman. "You've got to show the flag a little bit." The Boston Globe's Matt Viser and Tracy Jan report that Romney's campaign appears to agree--after spending a year trying to avoid the taint of the Tea Party, Romney is suddenly embracing the activist group. The Wall Street Journal's Neil King, Jr. and Jonathan Weisman noticed the change, too. But not only is the change against the advice of so many pundits, it's not even entirely welcome. The Tea Party group FreedomWorks is breaking up with the host of the New Hampshire event, the Tea Party Express, for allowing Romney to show up. Romney, FreedomWorks says, is a "poseur."
All summer Romney was criticized for taking a too laid-back approach to his campaign and waiting too long to attack Perry. But now that he's finally doing it, it's just not good enough for these people.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.