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October 10, 2011

When is good good enough?

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, must be a little mystified during this GOP primary season. You have to give the guy an “A” for effort; he's certainly been trying to keep his best foot forward and out of his mouth.


It seems that no matter what Mitt does, he's always the bridesmaid, never the bride.


What is it about this handsome, well-mannered, experienced and cultured Republican that causes other Republicans to continue to look past him in search of a viable presidential candidate? He lacked John McCain's war hero, straight-talker reputation during the last presidential primary. They said he was a bit of a stiff, and maybe they were right.


This time around, it seems as though Mr. Romney and his handlers have tried to deal with that. You never see this guy with a tie; it's as if he doesn't own one. The open collared shirt, rolled-up sleeves and occasional sport coat is meant to send a signal that he's just a regular Joe, albeit a multi-millionaire regular Joe.


Mitt Romney appeared to have it all when the silly season started. Money, an organization, and central casting looks seemed to suggest that 2012 might just be Mitt's time. Add to that a weakened President Barack Obama, a failing economy and flawed Democrat leadership team in the House and Senate, and a serious GOP candidate looked to have a clear path to the presidency.


Why, then, all of the angst over Mitt, the constant thrum of dissent and endless casting about for another candidate? In the beginning, there was Mitt. Then Haley Barbour, Mississippi governor and darling of the Republican establishment, was openly courted to jump into the fray. Next, it was the on-again, off-again dalliance with former Alaska governor-turned author, Sarah Palin.


Next in line was Donald Trump. The Donald, known for his hair and his television persona, certainly generated media interest, if not die hard GOP voter appeal. Once Mr. Trump opened his mouth, he reminded us how much better off we would be having him on television than we would be having him in the White House. Through it all, Mitt kept plugging away.


Following Trump's flameout, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich stepped up, citing his history with the Contract for America in 1994, and his wealth of innovative ideas on matters as diverse as healthcare reform and the economy. It all sounded so good, Republicans primary watchers were in shock when his organization fell apart and his fundraising stalled. Through all of Newt's press conferences and speeches, Mitt kept plugging away.


Later arrivals signaled a new direction for the GOP. Congressman Ron Paul's perennial campaign emerged, his odd mix of libertarian and conservative Republican values appealing to an element of the party but not energizing established Republicans.


Former Godfather's Pizza founder Herman Cain seemed to catch fire, including a surprise victory in the Florida straw poll, but no one really ever expected him to emerge victorious from this two year courtship with GOP voters. Minnesota Congressman Michelle Bachmann's determined stare and intensely focused message made her a darling of the Tea Party movement, but it seems that the Tea Party doesn't fund campaigns. Representative Bachmann has all but disappeared from view. Through it all, Mitt kept plugging away.


Even more recently, former Utah Governor and Obama Administration ambassador to China John Huntsman emerged as the darling of the national media.


Governor Huntsman seemed determined to set himself aside from the GOP presidential field by being the moderate, the civil discourse candidate who could help bridge differences and open dialogue.


Who gave him that idea? This is a primary, not a general election. GOP voters in primaries aren't looking for moderation, they want red meat. Bloody, dripping chunks of rhetorical hindquarters they can feast on, that remind them of how much they despise the other side. Ambassador Huntsman actually reminds them of what they don’t want, not what they're looking for in their candidate. Through it all, Mitt kept plugging away.


Next came the political phenomenon known as Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Part George W. Bush Texas swagger, part competent government leader, Governor Perry started off with a bang and grabbed the Tea Party darling role right from underneath Representative Bachmann. She seemed at a loss to understand why. Governor Perry appeared to have it all, right up until he showed up at the televised debates.


It didn't seem possible that another Texas Republican governor could come across so inarticulate as to seem unqualified, but Mr. Perry did so in spades. Fumbling, mumbling and stumbling his way through an attempted attack on Mitt Romney's policies made Mr. Perry look like a fool. Throughout Perry's embarrassing debate performance, Mitt kept plugging away.


Finally, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been courted, begged and cajoled by big donors and leading GOP strategists to consider abandoning his promises to New Jersey voter two years ago in order to become the next great GOP hope. Governor Christie is a big, bold and brash leader, unafraid to take on his political adversaries in the court of public opinion. He seems to win more than he loses.


In a stunning demonstration of solid political judgment, Governor Christie opted out of the presidential sweepstakes, seemingly intent to wait until a more appropriate time in his life. While many seem to suffer from deep disappointment, Mitt keeps plugging away.


So, the basic question remains. Why are Republicans not content with Mitt Romney? Is it his history of major policy flip-flops, like gay marriage and abortion? Is it the statewide healthcare reform bill in Massachusetts that the Obama Administration used to craft its national reform measure? Maybe it's the idea that Americans aren't ready to elect a devout Mormon, although that seems less likely.


Mitt's problems will be most obvious if this search for the perfect GOP candidate continues. Now that the Christie courtship has ended, Mitt's best hope is to corral Wall Street donors and build a war chest to rival the Obama money machine. Nothing shuts up dissension within the primary ranks like a well-funded campaign account.


For GOP and Tea Party voters, who, for whatever reason, just can't connect with Mitt Romney, maybe they'll be happy being largely responsible for the re-election of President Obama, and four more years of class warfare, social engineering and wealth transfer.


Count on Mitt to keep plugging away, whether or not he's good enough for the Tea Party.


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