The press has come to expect Republicans to fit certain molds. They are supposed to be inarticulate and not quick on their feet. The press has stereotyped every Republican presidential nominee since Ford in this way. They are also supposed to be intellectually unimaginative or downright unintelligent. Again, every Republican presidential nominee since Ford has had to live with this label. They are further required to be creatures of politics who have accomplished nothing or next to nothing outside of the political world. Lastly, all Republicans ought to have a bit of Elmer Gantry in them. They should preach about morality and piety, but they should always be obliging enough to have at least a few skeletons jangling in their closet.
Mitt Romney fails to live up to any of these stereotypes. Glib and articulate, it’s hard to imagine Romney ever fearing a press conference or a debate. Intellectually, Romney graduated Harvard’s Business and Law Schools with top honors. Furthermore, it seems like he’s completely unfamiliar with the media dictates that Republicans should wrestle with English like it’s a hostile foreign language and make themselves available for lampooning as dullards.
Even more gratingly, Mitt Romney didn’t become a full-time politician until 2002. Until then, he had been a phenomenally successful businessman who had made hundreds of millions of dollars in a fiercely competitive industry while earning a reputation for honesty and intellectual probity.
Lastly, and probably most frustratingly for the media, the Romney closet is depressingly barren. When Mitt Romney talks about family values, he’s able to point to his own wife of 40 years and a brood of children and grandchildren that seems too good even for a Christmas card.
In short, Mitt Romney is more formidable than a Republican presidential candidate has any right being. He is a fat target in a way that a guy like Mike Huckabee never could be, even if Huckabee hadn’t lost all that weight.
NONE OF WHICH IS TO SAY THE PRESS’ ATTACKS are entirely without merit. Romney’s positions on social issues, most prominently abortion, have changed (or evolved) in recent years. The press has concluded with predictable hostility that these changes reflect an unappealing opportunistic streak that marks Romney’s character. Because these changes have become such an issue, Romney will have to offer a more compelling explanation for his current positions than he has to date. The fact on the ground, fair or not, is that some observers have decided that Mitt Romney’s core convictions don’t run deep. The candidate and his campaign will have to deal with this matter.
But as far as the press is concerned, one question determinedly lingers: To paraphrase Bob Dole, where was the similar outrage when Al Gore and Dick Gephardt had similar evolutions, albeit ones that ran in the opposite direction?
Dean Barnett blogs almost daily at HughHewitt.com. He has also been a frequent contributor to the Weekly Standard's online edition, The Daily Standard. He can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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