What is wrong with Romney campaign?

I used to think that John McCain’s election campaign was incompetent but Mitt Romney’s is surely giving him a run for his money. McCain always faced an uphill battle in 2008 with the albatross of the George W. Bush presidency hanging around his neck but his unforced errors, especially the disastrous selection of Sarah Palin, did not help him. By comparison, Romney should have had it easy. The economy is sputtering, unemployment is high, people are feeling uneasy and fearful about their future, and he could have run as the agent of change. And yet he still has not managed to take the lead in the polls.

Part of the reason may be that he has a curiously unlikable public persona. There is an overweening sense of self-satisfaction and entitlement that seeps through however much he may try to hide it. It may well be that this quality may be common among those who are successful at the kind of private equity work that Romney did. After all, it must require some sense of distance from ordinary people to be able to make decisions that enrich you greatly while devastating the lives of large numbers of ordinary people.

To be able to sleep at night must require some kind of cognitive and emotional shield that makes you think that everyone deserves what they get in life and that you are merely the agent of the ineluctable laws by which society functions. If the laws benefit you and hurt others, you cannot be blamed any more than you can be blamed if your neighbor is killed by a bolt of lightning. That’s just the way it goes, and all those sycophants around you who depend on you for their jobs reinforce the idea that it is all for the greater good.

The problem is that although his advisors have surely told him that this attitude will not endear him to voters and to keep this aspect of his personality well-hidden, he seems to lack sufficient meta-awareness to prevent it escaping because he keeps making these unforced errors. How else can you explain his decision to greatly expand the size of one of his houses and build an elevator for all his cars when he knew that he was going to run for president? How else can you explain his “I like to fire people” statement? I know that the context in which he said it gives it a different connotation but no savvy politician would ever have used those words to convey that idea.

And then there was last week. He had to have known that the Democratic convention would spend a lot of time painting him as an out-of-touch plutocrat. So what does he do? Rather than lying low or counter-imaging by doing some ‘man of the people’ type photo-ops, he instead goes to one of his summer homes and spends his time on piloting his fancy boat on a lake and jet-skiing. Rachel Maddow is also puzzled by this seeming lack of awareness of the Romney campaign.

I really wonder what the thinking is in the Romney campaign. If there is some clever strategy, I just don’t see it.


  1. slc1 says

    Maybe the answer is that Romney is just a bad candidate. As Prof. Singham points out, this is an election he should be a substantial favorite to win, based on the failure of the Obama administration to get the economy moving again (a failure due in large part to the sabotage efforts of the Rethuglicans in Congress). Instead, he is given only a 30% chance of winning by Nate Silver as we sit here today.

  2. khms says

    What is wrong with Romney campaign?

    Trying to ride on the Tea Party tails. Especially with a candidate whose past politics are quite unlike Tea Party ideas, thus disappointing both sides.

    And I can’t believe those evangelical conservative voters have no problems swallowing a Mormon candidate.

    Frankly, I think it might be easier to figure out what is right with this campaign, because surely that list will be much shorter … possibly empty.

    Of course, my view is shaded by not being either conservative or RWA.

  3. says

    It is a testament to the sad state of the economy that Obama is not wiping the floor with Romney, and a testament to the sad state of Romney that he is not wiping the floor with Obama.

  4. Greg P. says

    You’re right, the campaign team should be doing a better job of keeping him out of easily avoidable trouble like this. Either they’re asleep at the switch, or he’s overruling them. I vote for overruling, since that’s probably his usual M.O.

  5. grumpyoldfart says

    Most politicians will let at least a few of their advisers speak frankly without fear of retribution – and then follow their advice.

    Of course, if an adviser gets the impression that his job will be lost if he speaks too frankly, he will stop giving advice and become a yes man instead.

    Maybe Romney has frightened his advisers and they have become yes men.

  6. minxatlarge says

    I suspect that Romney is a psychopath. The lack of meta-awareness, the thousand mile stare, the inablility to prioritize his values (reflected by the constant flip-flopping and lying), never mind the rest of the Hare checklist.

    It would be difficult for a campaign staff to work with a psychopath in the first place, but it often seems as if the campaign is purposefully providing bad advice. In the past a person could find the influencers by following the money, but post Citizens United…good luck with that. Unless some key staffer confesses, I doubt we’ll see a ‘How I Killed Romney’s Chance’ story.

    The only thing that I’m sure of is that to compete in a global economy, we need things like infrastructure, healthy and educated workers with safe and affordable housing, reliable transportation and energy to make it all run. If I wanted to topple the US, I’d kill education and healthcare and let the other infrastructure rot. For an added kick, I’d stir up anxiety about national security and encourage overspending on the military. This formula worked really well on the USSR, yes?

    OTOH, maybe we’re just idiots.

  7. Jockaira says

    grumpyoldfart said:

    Most politicians will let at least a few of their advisers speak frankly without fear of retribution – and then follow their advice.

    Of course, if an adviser gets the impression that his job will be lost if he speaks too frankly, he will stop giving advice and become a yes man instead.

    I’m sure that most of Romney’s advisers knew from the gitgo that Romney had almost no chance of winning against a personable and charming incumbent unless they were just as delusional as most present-day Republicans.

    The wise adviser would have taken on this job knowing that the most likely scenario would be an Obama victory and the probable immediate termination of adviser paychecks. Since Romney has asserted “I like to fire people”, the intelligent adviser would clam up and become a yes man, to guarantee that fat paycheck for as long as possible, knowing that it will stop sometime in November. And then it’s time for the adviser to find another fish.

    It’s not surprising. This is the essence of the capitalist’s SOP, find a situation, structure it to yield profit, and when the profit potential declines (as it assuredly will, the process being essentially parasitical) it’s time to move on to the next series of victims.

    Romney has only himself to blame…it’s Karma!

  8. Steve says

    My thoughts too. He is almost the textbook definition of a sociopath. Especially the pathological lying and the lack of genuine emotions and empathy. You can even see it in his past with the bullying incident. Or the animal cruelty.

    Btw, according to some common definitions the difference between sociopathy and psychopathy is that the psychopath is marked by impulsiveness, flamboyancy, aggressiveness and an inability to establish relationships. They tend to live on the fringes of society. Sociopaths on the other hand can be seemingly normal and well integrated. They have good self control and go to great lengths to hide themselves. While their emotions aren’t genuine, they are very good at faking it.

  9. Henry Gale says

    The debate prep is not in one of Romney’s homes:


    The more I see of Romney the more I think he has some form of a social anxiety condition. He reminds me of a good friend who when put in a new situation is uncomfortable and awkward but when around friends is funny and at ease. My friend’s condition is so bad that in job interviews he often resorts to gaze aversion just to get through.

    That said, perhaps Romney isn’t a psychopath any more than Obama, Mitt’s just a bad candidate.

  10. Reginald Selkirk says

    The Etch-A-Sketch gets a good shake! Today Romney announced that he likes some parts of ‘ObamaCare’ and that he will not lower taxes on rich people. I’m so stupid that it has me fooled.

  11. Scott says

    That his Mormonism might be a problem with evangelicals has certainly been discussed a lot, but I can’t see evangelicals voting for Obama because of it. I suspect it may be like liberals voting for John Kerry in 2004: “Hold your nose and vote for Kerry.”

  12. Brian M says

    Henry Gale…why the comforting assumption that Obama is NOT some form of -path.

    Have to admit he does creep me out quite a bit.

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