Romney's Problem is Romney

Romney's Problem is Romney

By Jack Kelly - January 29, 2012

Mitt Romney has a problem. He thinks his problem is Newt Gingrich, who clobbered him in the South Carolina primary. Mr. Gingrich has since erased Mr. Romney's lead in national polls, and surged in Florida, where the next primary will be held Jan. 31.

Every Palmetto State winner has gone on to win the Republican nomination. Being reminded of this fills the GOP establishment with dread.

With good reason. Mr. Gingrich has more baggage than Amtrak. Nearly twice as many Americans have an unfavorable opinion of him as have a favorable opinion. He's poison to swing voters. In head to head match-ups with President Barack Obama, Ron Paul has done better.

Mr. Gingrich is "perhaps the only GOP candidate who could shift the spotlight from President Obama to himself, alienate virtually all independent voters, lose more than 40 states and put the House majority in jeopardy," wrote panicked Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin.

Newt Gingrich is no more popular now than he was last month, but Mr. Romney's favorability rating has fallen into a statistical tie with his, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll Tuesday.

Pundits were saying just a week ago Mr. Romney's nomination was "inevitable." But if he loses Tuesday, it could be over for him.

If Mr. Romney "can't win Florida, we're going to have to try to come with someone as an alternative to Newt Gingrich who could be Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, someone," NBC's Andrea Mitchell said she was told by a "top Romney adviser."

Mr. Romney thinks he can revive his flagging fortunes by attacking Mr. Gingrich. But Mr. Romney's problem isn't Newt Gingrich. It's Mitt Romney. He hasn't been running to win. He's been running not to lose.

Mr. Romney's stump speech is insipid pap. He says nothing that offends, consequently nothing that motivates or inspires. In debates, he has qualified his answers so carefully that "he comes across as a wimp," said Boston radio talk show host Howie Carr.

Playing prevent defense early in the first quarter is a bad idea, South Carolina showed. The GOP establishment was willing, eager even, to settle for Mr. Romney. But rank and file Republicans aren't sure he's tough enough to take on Mr. Obama.

They know Mr. Gingrich is bombastic, stretches the truth, been a jerk to his ex-wives, and been known to modify his principles when his palm was crossed with enough silver.

But for many, Newt has an overriding virtue. He gives voice to our rage at a Wall Street-Washington elite whose members gorge themselves on bailouts, subsidies, and insider trades; who've hobbled our grandchildren with massive debt that will stunt their lives and eviscerate their dreams; who sneer at people in flyover country, but kowtow to tyrants overseas.

Mr. Gingrich stands up to biased, condescending journalists who slant questions and play gotcha.

Mitt Romney hasn't. The rank and file want red meat; he's served petit fours. So they prefer the bad boy who fights for what they believe in to the Eagle scout who equivocates.

Some think Mr. Romney showed toughness when he attacked Mr. Gingrich in Tampa Monday night. But "he is not going to rally the enthusiasm he needs to win by dirtying up the competition," said Andrew McCarthy of National Review.

Republicans watched the Tampa debate "with fascinated horror," said Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol. "The only spectacle in American politics more off-putting than Newt Gingrich in self-righteous defense mode is Mitt Romney in self-righteous attack mode."

The winner of their exchange, Mr. Kristol opined, was Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Mr. Romney "needs to convince us that he's the most conservative candidate who can be elected," Mr. McCarthy said. If he "continues to neglect the 'most conservative' part, he can forget about the 'can get elected' part," Mr. McCarthy added.

Republicans want the GOP candidates to attack Barack Obama, not each other. Mr. Romney can recover his footing if he hammers the president clearly, concisely, constantly on jobs, spending and debt, corruption, crony capitalism, national defense. Republicans would prefer a champion without Mr. Gingrich's considerable baggage.

Mr. Romney showed signs of this in Jacksonville Thursday, by far his best debate. But his squabbling with Mr. Gingrich earned them both a well deserved, and heavily applauded, rebuke from Rick Santorum.

If Mr. Romney directs his fire at the real enemy, he'll win. If he doesn't, Mr. Kristol could be prophetic.

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

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