Most successful candidates for president get their sea legs as the campaign moves along; good politicians learn and get better as they go back and forth across the country, as they compete in the myriad of contests. They learn from their mistakes, they test out their stump speeches, they improve in debates and informal question and answer sessions, they grow as candidates. Unfortunately for the Republican Party, this is not the case for former Gov. Mitt Romney. If you examine Presidents John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, even George W. Bush, they all got into a rhythm as candidates and office holders.
It makes a difference. Mitt Romney just can't get into that groove. After six years and two tries, he can't seem to get it right. He has a strong solid campaign team, he is able to raise the money, his campaign is performing the mechanics well. But the candidate is not closing the sale. And he is a salesman. Maybe too much of a salesman.
This is an election where the Republican Party wants desperately to defeat the incumbent. The pump is primed. The troops are ready. But something just isn't right about their frontrunner. He is trying too hard to be what he is not: a movement conservative.
He is a compromiser, a person who makes deals, a nonideological politician. Or, at least, that is what he seemed to be over the years.
But maybe he is trying desperately to win by saying what he thinks people want to hear. The trouble is, he has always done that in his campaigns. So people are not sure who Mitt Romney really is and whether they can trust him from one moment to the next.
There is video of him in Worcester, Mass. in 2002, running for governor where he said: "I think people recognize that I'm not a partisan Republican—that I'm someone who is a moderate, and that my views are progressive."
This is a far cry from his claiming to be "a severely conservative Republican governor" and using the "c" word 25 times in his 25 minute speech to CPAC. The fact that he ad-libbed the word "severely" in his speech says something about Romney.
It is as if he goes over the top because he does not really believe what he is saying. He feels he needs to please his audience by using words and phrases that he thinks will work. Maybe it is his previous life as a salesman. So he over-sells.
But these statements and positions don't come across as genuine, as true, as part and parcel of who he really is as a person or as a candidate.
Think back to his early campaigns.
He said he wasn't a part of "Reagan Bush" in the 1990s; he claimed to be more progay rights than Sen. Ted Kennedy; he was for keeping
Roe v. Wade
in place; he supported individual mandates for healthcare reform. The quotes and statements and positions go on and on.
It is not as if he tweaked these positions or evolved gradually or was simply making them more nuanced. These were full 180 degree changes in positions. And it wasn't just a few issues, it was a basic philosophical shift. That is why I called him a "weathervane in a hurricane" in 2008. Since then, he has only gotten worse. He has not grown as a candidate or found his core.
Voters in these Republican primaries are asking a fundamental question about Mitt Romney: Just how does he go from someone who is "not a partisan Republican…(but)a moderate…a progressive" to someone who is a "severely conservative Republican" in less than a decade?
Voters want to know, can they trust Mitt Romney?