Dan Hodges: Mitt Romney, the new Mike Dukakis
THERE is a scene in that cinematic masterpiece Naked Gun 2½: The Smell Of Fear when Leslie Nielsen retires to a seedy dive bar to drown his sorrows over the loss of his great love Priscilla Presley. As the camera pans across the room, on the wall behind him we see a series of appalling global catastrophes: the sinking of the Titanic, the Hindenburg disaster and, finally, a picture of a smiling Mike Dukakis, the Democrats 1988 presidential candidate.
I suspect if the ever go ahead with the planned sequel and revisit this scene, the Mike Dukakis photo may well be replaced by one of Mitt Romney. In fact, there could be a role for Romney himself, just sitting alone in the corner, muttering darkly, “Why did I let them talk me into it?”
Over the weekend there was a lot of briefing from inside the Republican camp of a shift of focus away from the unfolding events in the Middle East, which a number of insiders conceded had seen Romney lurch clumsily away from his central campaign them, the economy. And to be fair, they have succeeded spectacularly. Though I’m not sure branding half the American electorate a bunch of no-good, self-pitying wasters is going to prove all that beneficial.
It’s important to keep the Romney video nasty in perspective. Some commentators are already speculating this morning that it may have ended his chances of winning the election. They’re wrong; Romney never had a chance in the first place.
This election was won in the spring, when the Obama campaign effectively bombed the Romney campaign on the runway. A wave of attack ads defined the GOP candidate as a cold, aloof and out of touch – not an especially hard job as it was all basically true – and Romney has been playing catch up ever since.
Anyone doubting that fact need only look at the conventions. During the past week there’s been lots of debate about whether the Obama election bounce post Charlotte would be sustained (up till now it broadly has been). But that was always the wrong question. The real question was why did the bounce occur in the first place. And the answer is a simple, and fatal one, for Mitt Romney. That was the first time the American people had the opportunity to compare the two candidates side by side. And they preferred Barack Obama.
The question is no longer whether Romney will win in November. It’s whether he will emerge simply as the loser, or as a cautionary tale.
At the moment my money’s on the latter. You could make a case that when it comes to Americansarejustaloadof lazyscroungersgate Romney was unlucky. These were private comments to a partisan gathering of political supporters. They weren’t a “gaffe” as such.
But look at what it tells us about the fundamentals of the Romney campaign. Firstly, his response. Last night he convened a panicky press call in which he admitted his words were “not elegantly stated” but that he “stands by the comments”. Eh? How can you stand by the comments? You just branded half your fellow Americans bums. Your only option is to say, “My words were taken out of context, I obviously respect those who intend to vote for the president, but I just have a different view on where we should be taking the country”. Does Romney seriously think he can spend the next five weeks running for president on a slogan of “I’m gonna get you suckers”?
The second thing is: where did the video actually come from? The ease with which Romney made the remarks makes it obvious he thought he was among friends. Well with friends like that, who needs Ron Paul?
I wrote last week how there were clear signs the broader Republican Party was beginning to decouple itself from the Romney campaign. Now there are signs the Romney campaign is beginning to decouple itself from Romney. Yesterday the Politico website published a comprehensive article detailing the tensions and missteps occurring within the Romney camp. There were no explosive revelations, but that wasn’t the point. The briefing was authoritative, and made clear the blame game is already starting. That wouldn’t be happening if they genuinely believed they’re man was in with a fighting chance.
Over the next week or so we will have the Romney re-launch. The roll of Stuart Stevens, Romney’s campaign manager, will be downgraded, though it will be spun that he is being given the space to concentrate on one specific area of the campaign. Some new faces will be drafted in, and they will be described as “wise old heads”. We will hear of new message and a sharper campaign focus.
And then Mitt Romney will lose.