As someone who spent a good part of the eighties arguing how such manifestly incomplete candidates like Carter, Mondale and Dukakis could–yes, truly, absolutely could–fill the inside straights that would take them to the White House, I sympathize with the excruciating efforts of those Republican loyalists who are trying to convince people, most importantly themselves, that Mitt Romney can still win this race. Run as a true conservative, says Joe Scarborough. Get on message, says The Wall Street Journal. Fellas, have a seat. Save that energy for another day.
And yet, of course, Romney could still win this race, just as I, a Catholic male over the age of seven, could be elected Pope. I’m technically eligible, but I’m not going to get myself measured for a miter, just as Romney shouldn’t avoid a good deal on a Caribbean vacation next January just because he feels obliged to keep the 20th free for the Inauguration. Romney’s inadequacies have always been visible, but like a Polaroid photograph, they grow clearer and clearer and clearer by the moment. He has gone through the Republican primary season and the debates without once ever showing that large and in charge posture we yearn to see in our presidents, he has never lost that falsely jovial opacity so many corporate bosses wear during Christmas parties when they have to interact with their workers, and he has shown himself to have a miserably tin ear.
Sunday’s appearance on Meet the Press was a great case in point, when he said he would keep parts of Obamacare. That, after spending all year saying with unequivocal force that on the first day of his presidency, he would repeal Obamacare. If you are a Tea Party activist in Florida, your head must be exploding. And if you are any Republican serious about governing, you must be coming to the conclusion that this man this limited would soon turn into a disastrous president, a brand killer, and that everybody would be better off with Obama back in the White House and the Republicans in Congress continuing to play defense.
There is one way Romney can still win. As one sage said over the weekend, he needs to find an issue he can own, an issue where his position is the one that causes people to say “I agree with Governor Romney on this one.” And that issue could be tax reform. Romney needs to release–no, no, I’m not joking–several years of his tax returns, and then stand up and pledge that when he becomes president, he will fight to close every loophole, gimmick and shelter that he and his fellow billionaires use to reduce their tax bills. That position would help him win the attention of the middle class, middle of the road voter, and lend some coherence to his tax rate and budget proposals. And frankly, he could claim a Nixon Goes to China kind of credibility on the issue that Obama never could, even if they had precisely the same proposals.
Yeah, don’t worry. It’l never happen.