The RPs Debate Presidential Leadership: Krystal Ball Rebuts

Rebuttal #4: Krystal Ball

I want to start where Rod’s insightful and very honest post (particularly for someone who worked for the candidate!) left off.  Rod said he wished Romney would “walk into a room with his hair messed up in a t-shirt and jeans grab the mike and say, ‘I’m a heck of a good businessman and I’m going to kick Obamas butt and fix this country. You can either get on board my train or I’m running you over!’”

Rod’s right.  This is exactly what Republican voters want to hear this year.  Unfortunately for Governor Romney, it’s also exactly the kind of line that with or without actual swearing, Romney is completely incapable of delivering in a non-cringeworthy way.  Mitt’s problems have less to do with the ins and outs of his flip-flops and more to do with the fact that those flip-flops feed the narrative of what everyone suspects: Romney is a privileged, out of touch, overly ambitious guy whose positions are poll-tested and designed to reflect what the electorate wants to hear, not what Romney actually believes.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that they suspect he holds no core beliefs. Jeff described Romney as “perfect.”  Voters don’t see perfect though, they see too good to be true.

The fact that Mitt doesn’t share the religion of the vast majority of Republican primary voters is also not the problem per se.  The problem is that Governor Romney’s religion feeds another narrative that voters suspect is true of Romney: that he’s fundamentally unlike you and your neighbors.  You can’t relate to him and he can’t relate to you.  How can you trust this guy to get what your family is going through when he seems so unlike you? How can you trust him to fight for you?

Machiavelli says that it is critical for leaders to be either feared or loved and between the two, it’s better to be feared.  In America though, I think we prefer to have something like 3 parts love to 2 parts fear in our Presidents. Obama, even now with the initial luster worn off his persona, is loved by his base.  But he has another side that’s on display when he says: “Ask Osama Bin Laden if I engage in appeasement.” George W. Bush, Clinton, and Reagan all were loved and feared.  In fact over the past several decades, I would argue that the two one-term Presidents, Carter and Bush 41, failed to win reelection because they were neither really loved nor really feared.  Could America love Romney? Fear him?

And so we see a carousel of Romney alternatives.  Each one promising some romance, but all failing to meet a basic threshold of general election credibility.  Eventually, the GOP will likely settle for Romney. Americans though, will continue to harbor a sense of unease about Governor Romney.  This unease kept him from winning the nomination in 2008 and will continue to weigh him down if he fights on against President Obama.

The political class frequently disses average voters because they vote on the personal qualities of candidates rather than issues. But the truth is, human beings are not particularly good at parsing data and numbers.  What our ancestral tribal heritage really prepared us to do was to make quick gut assessments of other humans. Should I put my life and the health of my family in this person’s hands by selecting them as hunting partner? When things go bad, will they have my back? America has had 6 years to mull over these questions about Governor Romney.  So far we are unconvinced.


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