Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has all but wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination following a strong victory in the New Hampshire Primary. Meanwhile, there is still a fierce effort by conservative candidates in the party to slow Romney in the South Carolina primary no matter the cost.
But Governor Romney has himself stumbled several times in his quest for the White House. Speaking in New Hampshire the other day, Romney gleefully said, "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me." He was speaking about an insurance company, but his words were most insensitive and played into the "job-killing" narrative being used by his opponents about his time at Bain Capital.
In his Tuesday night acceptance speech, Romney called President Barack Obama, "a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy." Romney was referring to the president's comments about fairness and income inequality, the 1% versus 99% argument. Rather than show any compassion on the subject, Romney defended his "politics of envy" comment on The Today Show Wednesday.
"I think it's fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms," the former governor said, "But the president has made it part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It's a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail." By "quiet rooms" does Romney mean boardrooms or the clubhouse?
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who may spend $3 million in Romney attack ads in South Carolina, jumped on Romney's "envy" comment. "If anybody asks a question about (Romney's) record, he hides behind an entire framework and to question the facts is to be anti-capitalist. That is nonsense -- baloney," Gingrich said. "That is the smoke screen of those who are afraid to be accountable."
Nonetheless, as Romney's opposition is beginning their attacks in the South Carolina campaign, he has a commanding lead in state polls. But unforced errors during unscripted moments, Romneycare, serial flip-flopping on key conservative issues and some actions he took as governor of Massachusetts, are all fodder for his opponents and fuel a lack of passion for Romney among many Republican voters.
Romney is not a people person. Romney does not work crowds well. Romney is not a good extemporaneous speaker. Romney is not an inspiring leader. Rather, he is a successful business strategist and venture capitalist.
Yes Romney has masterfully put together his run for the White House by having a well thought out plan, by raising big money and by getting support from many wealthy friends for "Super-PAC" attack ads. But more than 60 percent of those who have participated in the Republican nominating process so far have not supported Romney. He is not connecting with a majority of Republicans.
This means that Romney's running mate could play a critical role making up for what he doesn't have. But is that person Florida Senator Marco Rubio? Or could it be New Jersey Governor Chris Christie?
Senator Rubio is Cuban-American, which is appealing because Florida is nearly 25 percent Hispanic and a critical state in the 2012 presidential election. Rubio is popular with the Tea Party, he served nine years in the Florida State Legislature and he is only 40 years old. Rubio survived a controversy around his biography, which said his parents fled Cuba because of Fidel Castro, when they really left before Castro came into power.
But Marco Rubio is the junior senator from his state and he has, at times, shown a lack of command of national issues. Also, a note of caution about the Hispanic vote: it is not monolithic. Cuban-Americans mostly vote Republican, not so other Hispanics. About two-thirds of the 50 million U.S. Hispanics are Mexican and about 4 percent are Cuban. Yes, Cubans dominate Florida, but Hispanics from Puerto Rico, Mexico and Central America are coming on strong.
There is no more exciting campaigner than Governor Chris Christie, who has been a forceful supporter of Romney. Christie puts the "bully" in bully pulpit. Christie speaks with passion and total confidence. He is fast on his feet for a big man, he is energetic and he doesn't back down from a fight. He remains popular in his home state because he connects with average blue-collar voters, and his appeal may also spill over into Pennsylvania. Ya' know, I'm just saying.
Over the next few weeks Governor Romney will be busy fending off attacks from his right while methodically rolling up convention delegates. But the general election will most likely be decided by how the U.S. economy is doing. That is why President Barack Obama is now out campaigning for his plans to increase jobs. If the unemployment rate continues to decline and the economy continues to grow, President Obama will likely be reelected to a second term.
Then Mitt Romney will find himself sitting in a quiet room stewing in the politics of envy.