Dean Barnett on the Mitt Romney He Knows

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Jan 15, 2008 12:50 PM
The former Townhall blogger and Romney supporter writes it in the NYT on his disappointment with the Romney campaign. I'm with him on this, though I've never been a Romney supporter.

In short, his take is that Mitt Romney is a decent man with a sense of duty to his country whose campaign has communicated that he's a insincere man of political ambition. Some of the responsibility for this-- if not the bulk-- undoubtedly lies with the candidate, but it's a shame it happened.

The feeling of insincerity was born of the fact that Romney tried to be the "social conservative" in the race when he was up against McCain and Giuliani. Now, I believe he's a social conservative and I trust his conversion on certain issues, but I don't believe that those are the issues he wants to be talking about, and it shows.  By contrast, when he does talk about the issues he wants to talk about-- managerial and fiscal-- he's really a pleasure to listen to. The only time I've gotten a sort of energy from him, he was talking to a Club for Growth audience, and making his story of corporate success and his desire to change Washington interesting.

Before Romney started trying to please all the conservatives all the time, I was very interested in his early narrative-- that he had overhauled the Olympics and several businesses and had managed the legislature in Massachusetts, of all places, and could do the same in Washington. They lost me when he veered away from that.

Once you make his stance on life and family issues, to which he was just recently converted, central to the campaign, you've lost the authenticity and electricity he had talking fiscal issues. That leads to people thinking you've got a rich candidate who just really wants to be president.

That being said, though, I think Romney has been ill-served by the legendary wimpyness of the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire. God bless you guys, but the aversion to "negative" advertising borders on silly.

Romney was an unknown compared to the two front-runners-- McCain and Giuliani-- when he started the race. He had to run a bunch of ads, and he had to make clear contrasts between himself and his opponents. Why vote for a relatively unknown Massachusetts governor unless he tells you who he is and why you should?

Fully 30 percent of Republican voters, according to the N.H. exit poll, thought Mitt Romney ran the most "unfair" campaign. There was a line of questioning about Romney's "attack" ads during the last debate before the New Hampshire primary, during which K-Lo observed, rightly:
McCain sounds silly complaining about issue ads. Talking about issues is good.
But to New Hampshire voters, he didn't sound silly. Romney ran some negative ads, but they weren't unfair or overly bare-knuckled. It's fair to remind voters what McCain stands for and that it's often been out-of-line--and belligerently out-of-line-- with the rest of his party and conservative values.

Frankly, it's a little annoying that the famously flinty people of New Hampshire and Iowa have to be treated with kid-gloves when it comes to simple campaign ads. I understand that they're inundated, but I was in New Hampshire for five days, I saw the ads, and none of them were even close to over-the-top. We should be grown-up enough to deal with the fact that candidates differ and want to point out their opponents' differences to gain ground.

I look forward to South Carolina's take on this stuff, where they have no such predilections about negative ads. In the meantime, Romney has to show he can win in Michigan to stay in this thing. Delegates aside--and Romney has collected a few-- you can't trudge through the entire primary season without an outright win under your belt, can you? If he doesn't get one on his home turf, where's he gonna get one without sloughing his reputation as the Michelle Kwan of the primary season? People like to vote for a winner-- even a winner that bugs the mess out of them, like McCain does-- and McCain has shown he can win in a primary and would be formidable in a general.

Allah's predicting an upset for Mitt, based on the fact that the Romney camp is confident enough to be running ads in S.C. He's still up two points in the RCP poll average, but I'm not sure I see it coming through for him.

Stay tuned for Townhall coverage of returns and the Democrat debate tonight...