Why No One Likes Mitt Romney
A lot of ink has been spilled detailing Mitt Romney's many flaws as a candidate for the Republican nomination. It's true that he's stiff and lacks charisma, that he's a poor debater, that his religion is suspect among evangelicals, and that he's held views in the past on issues like cap-and-trade and mandating health insurance that run afoul of today's Tea Party-driven party orthodoxy.
But what about a simpler explanation for his trouble sealing the deal with the GOP base? Perhaps, as we struggle through a painfully moribund recovery from the worst finance-driven crash since the Great Depression, it's just not the cycle to be a fat cat who made a fortune on Wall Street. (Romney's fortunes are improving in Michigan, and he looks to have Arizona all but tied up, but Santorum still holds a 5-point lead nationwide and there are some very conservative states coming up on Super Tuesday.)
There is evidence to support this view. According to Gallup's tracking poll, Rick Santorum, veteran culture warrior, appears to be winning a class war against his deep-pocketed and better-organized foe. Since the week of February 6, Santorum has enjoyed a 16-point swing among primary voters, fueled largely by conservatives coalescing around him as the right-wing alternative to Romney. But there are some additional (and to some degree overlapping) groups he can thank for his fortunes. Among Republicans and Republican leaners who don't have a college degree, Santorum has enjoyed a 19-point swing. And while Romney holds a narrowing lead of 4 percentage points over Santorum among voters making $90,000 or more, Santorum, after an 18-point swing in his direction, has opened up a 12-point lead among those who aren't doing as well. Unfortunately for Romney, those making less than 90 grand outnumber those making more by almost three to one.
The leaders are offering an almost Dickensian tale of two campaigns. Although Santorum's fundraising has reportedly picked up since his three-state sweep on February 7, the Independent reported that Santorum's “campaign is stretched so thin he sometimes sleeps in supporters' spare rooms and even taps them for a lift to his own rallies.”
Contrast that to the style in which Romney has been travelling. Think Progress dug into the campaign's expense reports and highlighted some of the ultra-luxe accommodations Romney enjoys on the campaign trail. In Arizona, he's stayed at the Hermosa Inn, “a luxury boutique hotel in Scottsdale-Phoenix” that offers “exclusive lodging accommodations in one of the city’s most affluent suburbs.” Rooms are running as high as $765 per night right now. In Virginia, he stayed at the Jefferson Hotel, “Richmond's grandest hotel and one of the finest in America," where suites cost up to $1,200 a night. In Southern California, he bedded down at the Resort at Pelican Hill, voted the top resort in the country by the readers of Conde Naste Traveler. Its best accommodations will only cost you $995 a night.
Of course, both of the frontrunners are quite rich relative to most of the voters they're hoping to attract. But while the Washington Post reported that “Rick Santorum grew wealthy over his four years working as a corporate consultant and media commentator after leaving the Senate in 2006,” he can honestly say that he comes from a middle-class background. His father was a psychologist, his mother a nurse, and he attended public schools in Pennsylvania.
Romney, on the other hand, has led an entirely sheltered life, divorced from any reality that most of us can imagine. He was born into a wealthy family – his father was an auto exec, and later the governor of Michigan – and raised in a tony suburb of Detroit where he attended an exclusive prep school. Then, after graduating from Brigham Young University, he went into management consulting before making an incredible fortune as a corporate raider.
Santorum may offer an endless array of nutty statements about social issues, but Romney simply has nothing to say to connect with people who don't live in such a bubble of affluence. He received a lot of well-earned mockery for telling a crowd in Michigan how much he loves the state's trees, lakes and cars, but there is something almost sad about the performance, as if he is at a total loss to come up with anything even remotely resembling some sort of common experience he might have shared with the people of Michigan – the state in which he grew up.
All of his much-dissected “gaffes” come from that place of sheltered, rarified privilege. Recall his visible shock when an audience laughed at his assertion that “corporations are people, my friend.” He simply had no idea why anyone would find that statement off-key. He was similarly tone-deaf casually offering to bet Rick Perry $10,000 over some factual dispute during a GOP debate. Romney's sitting on a fortune of around $250 million – that's just a small wager to keep things interesting in his circle. This week, he made an offhand comment to a Michigan crowd that his wife, Ann, "drives a couple of Cadillacs." What's unusual about that?
Romney is by all accounts a very hard worker. He has been running for president for six years. He started out this cycle by amassing a huge campaign war chest and hiring the best GOP consultants and staffers. He was the conservative alternative to John McCain during the 2008 primaries. He should be way out ahead, closing in on the nomination. Instead, he's trailing a poorly financed extremist who lost his last Senate race by 18 points – he's behind a campaign without a pollster, headed by a candidate who sometimes sleeps in supporters' guest rooms.
This state of affairs has opened up a big debate about just what Romney's doing wrong. But sometimes the simplest explanation is also the best one, and the reality is that Mitt Romney is the epitome of the top 100th of the top 1 percent, running in an age of populist revolt across the political spectrum – from the Tea Partiers to the Occupiers.
Maybe it's as simple as this: he chose the wrong cycle to be an obviously out-of-touch Wall Street elitist flush with hundreds of millions extracted from the Main Street economy.