Politico is leading with a much-discussed story today that quotes a lot of Republicans lamenting that Mitt Romney is losing because he just isn’t a good politician. These folks just know Romney is very qualified to be president; his poor skills as a candidate are the problem, as are his pedigree and stiff personal style, which are ill suited to the moment.
Sure, Romney is a bad candidate. But to ascribe his problems only to his failures as a salesman for himself obscures a key aspect of all this: For now, at least, Romney’s problem is also what he’s selling.
For months, Romney’s basic argument was this: Obama made things worse. If your economic life sucks, it’s Obama’s fault; that’s grounds enough to fire him and replace him with someone who gets how the economy really works. But voters are not accepting that argument. They don’t blame Obama as much as Bush for the sluggish recovery. What’s more, despite their disappointment with the status quo, they don’t think Obama made things worse; they believe we’re at least on track to recovery. The recent NYT/CBS poll found solid majorities in Ohio and Florida think the economy is either recovering or will recover if Obama's policies are given more time.
What about Romney’s policies? Here again, voters are not buying what he’s selling. For months, Romney led on the economy; he was enjoying the presumption of economic competence purely as an alternative vehicle for those disillusioned with Obama and the status quo. But when people started tuning in, and Romney began getting more specific about his own policies, and the public watched both conventions laying out each man’s respective vision, his advantage on the economy vanished entirely in a number of polls. Obama is even edging ahead in Florida and Ohio on who is more trusted on the economy. Clearly, not enough people believe Romney’s agenda of tax cuts and deregulation would engineer a faster recovery than is happening under Obama.
Meanwhile, tax cuts for the rich remain deeply unpopular — and Romney’s tax plan would cut taxes disproportionately on the rich. His running mate’s agenda for Medicare — which is central to the GOP’s blueprint for our fiscal future — has become a major liability in swing states. As Steve Kornacki notes, the public is currently rejecting the GOP ticket’s ideas — because the GOP failed to come up with a true post-Bush agenda that the American mainstream will actually accept.
No question, the freeloading 47 percent remarks revealed Romney as a terrible candidate. But here again, the problem isn’t just a stylistic one rooted in his image as a heartless, out of touch plutocrat. What also makes the video lethal is that it’s reinforcing already-forming perceptions of who would really benefit from Romney’s policies and the genuinely held priorities that inform them — what he is selling.
“The thing that people are always inclined to believe about him is that his economic policies will help the wealthy get richer,” Geoff Garin, the pollster for Priorities USA, which is running ads linking the 47 percent remarks to Romney’s policies, tells me. “The 47 percent comment falls much more in the category of confirmation rather than revelation.”
All of this could change, and Romney could still win. But if he loses, Romney’s — and the GOP’s — ideas and policies will deserve a prominent place in the post mortems.