Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- The granting of Secret Service protection following Mitt Romney's decisive Florida victory did not prevent him from immediately shooting himself in the foot. "I'm not concerned about the very poor," he explained. "My campaign is focused on middle-income Americans."

It is problematic for a politician to declare any group of citizens beneath his attention -- either the bottom 1 percent or the top 1 percent. But those in the top 1 percent, at least, can fend for themselves.

There are few things more powerful in politics than the confirmation of a stereotype, which is Romney's main political risk. A wealthy man can prove that he empathizes with average people -- see the examples of aristocrats such as Teddy or Franklin Roosevelt. But Romney has yet to prove it. He could start by making the economic advancement of the very poor a central concern of his campaign.

Republicans are still getting accustomed to Romney as their nominee. For many, the failure of Newt Gingrich was like sidestepping a falling anvil. It has inspired more relief than jubilation. Now Republicans are left to ponder the Romney-Obama matchup.

Romney's strengths: His political skills -- his mastery of policy details and his ability to extemporaneously explain his views -- are superior to those of recent nominees such as Bob Dole and John McCain. He is seldom stumped or flustered. He learns from his mistakes. His initial responses to attacks on his personal wealth, for example, were poor but quickly got better. He eventually proved himself capable of tough attacks on Gingrich -- a distressing but important qualification in a presidential contender. Romney is a fairly moderate candidate who emerged from a conservative primary process, giving him the ability to appeal to independents in the general election. He can claim the role of economic fixer in a time when there is much to be fixed. Solid majorities of registered voters view Romney as possessing the leadership qualities to be president and as capable of managing the government effectively.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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