Mitt Romney Is Likable Enough

No one has stopped to consider maybe the Republican primary electorate actually likes Romney and that is why he started from a higher base than the rest.


Have you heard the news? It's hot off the wire services. Drum roll please: Mitt Romney cannot get more than 25 percent of the vote in the Republican presidential primary race. That's what they say. He is the Mr. Good-Enough of the GOP, the guy you settle for because the rock stars that got you hot and bothered all ran off with supermodels and you can't be single and brokenhearted forever. So dull that he actually shines, Mitt Romney is surely the least-sure sure thing in elephantine memory.

All right, so that's not big news. I lied. This is actually not just mostly what is being said about Romney -- it's ALL that's said about him. I cannot figure out if pundits keep repeating this trope because they are senile or because they think that we are. No one even so much as makes the inverse point that he consistently polls with 25 percent of the vote, which, given the Keystone Kops hullabaloo of candidates hovering around him, seems like good work. Romney's a leveraged-buyout guy: He's making sure the bad stuff -- each 999 looney talking crazy -- is tossed out piece by piece. But that solid quarter he's starting from is a keeper.

And, of course, more to the point, he is surging at the rate of Global Warming in both New Hampshire and South Carolina, forcing the 25 percenters to come up with alternate theories that explain why they were not just plain old wrong. The New Hampshire thing, they say, is of course only because it's a satellite -- really a suburb -- of Massachusetts. Might as well call it Massachusetts 2. Might as well just incorporate it into Massachusetts -- heck it's about the size of a couple of football stadiums anyway.

And South Carolina -- that's because the Republican voters are exhausted and want to close the deal. They are like a 29-year-old spinster who doesn't want to be 30 and last girl standing in the musical-chairs of love. They say this as if the people in South Carolina are reporters who have been covering the election, they say this as if everyone likely to vote in the primaries in Columbia and Charleston has been lingering for months at coffee klatches and house parties in Davenport and Des Moines. Somehow these crazy Carolinians -- university undergraduates majoring in horticultural studies and chicken farmers and orchard keepers and wealthy merchants and collectors of antiquities -- are bored and ready to wrap this up because they they think like the kind of people who are tense and chomp at already chomped-at pencils and really worry about things that most people know they can't control and aren't that important anyway. I feel quite sure the reporter are sleep-deprived and stump-speeched out and they want this done with. But news-junkies notwithstanding, I doubt anyone in Aiken has been thinking about any of this all that much as they make their way to the 18th hole on the glorious green golf course.

I'm not sure why it occurs to no one that the GOP electorate might actually plain and simple like Mitt Romney. In fact, I hate the Republican party, I probably complain about Ronald Reagan in therapy more than I do about either of my parents, but I think Romney is kind-of okay, in his Stepford Husband way. I like Mitt Romney because, forgive me, he is what he is. Romney is simply this guy who is a last bastion of something old-fashioned and good in some ways: he has had a world-class education -- of which he should be very proud -- he's been civil and decent, he's been bipartisan and tolerant, and he's been spinning like an unhinged weathervane for so long he probably does it just for kicks -- which makes him exactly like a politician. Yep, that's what he is.

All the reasons Romney is disliked are all the reasons he would be an excellent president. Let's start by recognizing that principled politicians are highly overrated -- consider Jimmy Carter as Exhibit A. Despite our pretensions to pretension, we are not a country that loves ideology -- we're not, heaven forbid, France -- so much as we are a can-do people that, after all, last elected a yes-we-can president. We like what works, not what it says in The Communist Manifesto, which reads like a guidebook for a republic of dreams, and of course ends in a Stalinist bloodbath. Romney's, shall we say, flexibility (I refuse to use the word that refers to summer footwear) with his positions on abortion and just about everything else that makes the weasel go pop just shows that he is responsive to his constituents' desires. When they were a pro-choice crowd, that's where he stood, and when he fell in with the right-wing lunatics, he learned to speak in tongues. I think giving the people what they want is what we want. And why does it bother everyone that he told the landscaping company that tended to his acreage that they had to stop hiring illegal immigrants -- because, after all, he was running for office and, as they say in Beacon Hill, this just wouldn't wash? That is just about the way most of us would behave; any game theorist will tell you that people act in their economic interest unless a much more powerful countervailing force -- like wanting to be governor -- comes along. Invention (in this case, of a persona) is the mother of necessity: ambition made Romney do the right thing. And by the way, since when do we have a problem with ambition? And do we actually think that anyone with the nerve to run for president lacks it?

Above all, perhaps Romney's best quality is that he is awfully smart. The guy went to both Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School. Yes, as Woody Allen noted, Harvard makes mistakes -- but not if you are only one of 15 people in a newly established joint-degree JD-MBA program. But isn't double-Harvard a little tasteless and tacky, excess in excess? Two Harvard degrees, come to think of it, starts to seem more and more like a diagnosis from the DSM-IV when you consider that it is a common quality of Grover Norquist, Henry Kissinger, B.F. Skinner, Jim Cramer, and even Tiger Mom Amy Chua. Low taxes, no taxes, too much homework, not enough discipline -- these people are a living hell, where they go unhappiness or loudness or craziness or bow-hunting and electric ukeleles follow. These are the people who think they ought to be president. These smug double-Harvards are crafty and proud.

Very likely all that prestige means Romney is a complete cad, which makes you wonder why he hasn't bothered to cheat on his wife. Ah heck, no one's perfect.

Image credit: Reuters