It wasn't long ago that conventional wisdom among Democratic strategists handicapped Mitt Romney as President Obama's toughest potential Republican challenger. But lately there has been a big shift.
In fact, it is becoming clearer and clearer that Mitt Romney is the very embodiment of the political narrative that will likely define the 2012 Presidential race. Unless there is a miracle, the outcome of next year's election will likely be determined by whom the public blames for the lousy economy.
Of course the Republicans will argue that the culprit is the "overreaching," "innovation-stifling" big government and its leader, President Obama. Their prescription to solve the country's economic woes: eliminate every regulation in sight, cut taxes for the wealthy and free Wall Street bankers that lead us into the promised land.
Democrats, on the other hand, will pin the blame exactly where it belongs -- on the reckless speculation of the big Wall Street banks, their Republican enablers -- and the stagnant middle class incomes that have resulted from the top one percent of Americans siphoning off virtually all of the country's economic growth since 1980. They will fault the "do-nothing Republican Congress" for their insistence on defending the status quo, and their refusal to create jobs.
Earlier this summer -- when Republicans had succeeded in making "fiscal responsibility" and "deficit reduction" the touchstone of American political discourse -- a businessman like Romney appeared to many to be just the ticket. But the tide has turned.
Once they got the debt ceiling "hostage taking" episode behind them, the administration has used its jobs package -- and its own budget proposals -- to draw a sharp line in the sand. The President has demanded that Congress take action on jobs and pay for it by raising taxes on millionaires.
Then came the Occupy Wall Street Movement -- and the worldwide response -- that has tapped into the public's fundamental understanding, and anger, at the real nature of the economic crisis. The fact is that one of the only people around more unpopular than politicians are Wall Street bankers.
Finally, of course, the economic facts on the ground have made it clearer and clearer that right wing economic theories that blame "bloated entitlements" to seniors who make an average of $14,000 a year -- and demand "fiscal austerity" -- are just plain stupid. According to the Washington Post, even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) -- long the world's leading advocate of deficit reduction and "austerity" -- has now warned that "austerity may trigger a new recession and is urging countries to look for ways to boost growth."
As the national economic dialogue has shifted, the public's view of Mitt Romney has also come into focus. His out-of-touch "1% moments" proliferated.
On August 11, the blog Think Progress captured the now-famous video of Romney opining, "Corporations are people, my friend." Of course, given his record of dismembering and bankrupting companies at his old firm, Bain Capital, if "corporations are people," then Romney is guilty of murder.
On August 29th Romney disputed an account about the expansion of his beach front home. "Romney: Beachfront home is being doubled in size, not quadrupled," The Hill reported.
Then, just a few days ago, the Center for Responsive Politics reported that Wall Street donors had abandoned President Obama in droves and flocked to Romney.
Finally, an extraordinary photo surfaced from Romney's days as CEO of Bain Capital, where he made massive profits while five of the companies under his firm's direction went bankrupt and thousands of workers lost their jobs.
Apparently their difficulties in finding places to stash their profits became a joke among the young hotshots at Bain. They posed for a photograph with money stuffed in their pockets -- even their mouths. There at the center of the picture was the grinning CEO, Mitt Romney, with money overflowing from his pockets and his suit jacket.
There he is -- posing as the poster child for the 1%.
The picture could be the iconic image of the iconic line from the film Wall Street: "Greed is Good."
Increasingly, many Democratic strategists have begun to feel that Romney could be the best possible opponent for President Obama next year.
Think about the way swing voters make political decisions. They don't make their judgments about how to vote based on "policies or programs." They evaluate the personal qualities of the candidates.
In determining who is on their side and shares their values -- do swing voters choose Romney -- the poster child for the 1% -- or President Obama?
In the coming campaign, who is more likely to appear as an insider defending the status quo that people don't like -- and who will appear to be an outsider trying to bring change? Normally you'd have to say that the consummate "insider" is the guy who is President of the United States. Not necessarily so if his opponent is Wall Street's own Mitt Romney.
And several factors unique to Romney make his situation even worse:
- Voters want leaders with strong core values. That's not a description of Mitt Romney who has flip-flopped on just about every position he's ever taken in public life. When Karl Rove ran George Bush's campaign against John Kerry he said that Kerry's statement that he voted for the War in Iraq before he voted against it was the gift that kept on giving. Rove took a Senator with strong convictions and convinced swing voters that he had none. If Rove could do that to Kerry, think about the easy time Democrats will have in convincing America that Romney's values shift with the wind.
- Voters want to connect emotionally with their leaders. Ask Al Gore how important it is for candidates to "connect" with the voters. Romney has the personality of a statue. He just doesn't make emotional contact.
Much of the Republican smart money is going to Romney because it thinks he is increasingly likely to be the nominee. I can understand why the Wall Street money is going to Romney -- they want their guy to be President.
But I'm guessing that if he gets the nomination, by this time next year, Wall Street's investment in Romney will look about as "smart" as all that money they put into sub-prime mortgages and credit default swaps four years ago.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.