Mitt Romney's Electability Problem

A new poll shows President Obama has a clear edge over former Gov. Mitt Romney.

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With the economy seemingly set on a path to recovery and a new Washington Post/ABC News poll showing President Obama with a clear edge over former Gov. Mitt Romney, the White House must be feeling upbeat.

I'd caution Democrats to keep a close guard on their optimism, however. Republicans are down in the dumps about their choice of candidates. According to Pew Research Center polling, 52-percent think the field is "fair or poor." The dissatisfaction is real enough—but to a certain extent this sentiment is provisional rather than permanent. The GOP base is going to learn to stop worrying and love Romney. Come convention time, in late August, some portion of it may even persuade itself to feel "excited."

Here's what truly troubling for Romney, though. According to the Post/ABC poll, "By better than 2 to 1, Americans say the more they learn about Romney, the less they like him." That kind of data isn't just negative; it's call-911, go-get-the-defibrillator, bring-me-the-smelling-salts-while-you're-at-it negative.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney.]

In 2008, Republicans ran a candidate in Sen. John McCain whom conservatives neither loved nor trusted. This was a weakness that, in theory, could be overcome by formidable strengths, as there was no denying McCain's heroic personal story and estimable reputation. He was for better and worse a known commodity.

This is decidedly not the case with Romney. He's mostly a blank slate to many Americans. And just look at the story ("vulture capitalist" who's not concerned about the poor!) that's been written on that slate—and during a campaign against fellow Republicans!

[Read Robert Schlesinger: GOP Shouldn't Hope for a White Knight or Brokered Convention.]

At the risk of sounding like a one-note billy, I believe Republican strategists have wildly overestimated Romney's "electability." Not only is it true that his background in high finance is easily caricatured; it's that he seems, with alarming regularity, to confirm the worst aspects of this caricature with his own ill-chosen words.

His efforts to vicariously "feel pain," Clinton-style, have been chronically inept. (See

"I'm also unemployed,"

for example.) He is not naturally gifted at politicking, and so he overcompensates in ways that are downright painful to watch. (See

his rendition of "America the Beautiful,

" for example.)

[Read the U.S. News debate: Can Anything Stop Mitt Romney?]

The Romney campaign thus far has managed to produce a hapless icon—a cross between Henry F. Potter and Lee Greenwood.

On the one hand: It's only February. Romney has plenty of time to reintroduce himself to the country, and on more favorable terms.

But on the other: It's only February. This thing hasn't even started yet, and already Romney is forced to climb out of a 2-1 hole of negative vibes.

When the convention finally rolls around, my guess is a lot of prominent GOPers are going to be numbing themselves in Ybor City.

  • Robert Schlesinger: GOP Shouldn't Hope for a White Knight or Brokered Convention
  • See photos of the GOP presidential candidates on the hustings.
  • Check out the U.S. News Ballot 2012 blog.