This primary season has been particularly brutal. On the one hand we can listen to Mark Levin declaring that Mitt has damaged the Republican Party. We also have Stuart Rothenberg of Roll Call asking:
Is Romney such a mass of contradictions that voters can look at him and project their positions on him, allowing them to support him? Or is his credibility so shot that too many voters will simply conclude that they can’t trust him, making it impossible for them to support him?
Mitt has done damage to the party? Mitt’s credibility is shot? There is no doubt that the battle has been a bruising one, but whether the damage inflicted all around exceeds previous cycles or not is probably impossible to determine.
What I do remember very clearly from last time, however, was Mitt withdrawing fairly early and throwing his support behind John McCain in a major way. Unfortunately, what is happening this time? Based on what we have been hearing from Mitt’s chief opponents in the past couple of days, there is little likelihood of their following Mitt’s excellent example anytime soon. About the only game changer one can imagine in that regard might be for Santorum to become so scared of losing his home state of Pennsylvania, that he pulls out. A few days ago that seemed extremely unlikely, but one poll yesterday suggests that early withdrawal could definitely be a possibility, for no other reason than to avoid the embarrassment of losing the state he once represented in the US Senate.
Another thing I don’t recall seeing last time is the unbelievable level of personal attacks that have invaded the airwaves during this primary season. While the country has watched, Mitt’s opponents have gone after him with all guns blazing, many times firing off exaggerations and outright falsehoods, which, more often than not, have been rejected as untruthful by independent fact-check organizations. Taking just two examples, Rick Santorum recently won four Pinocchio awards from the Washington Post for one of his ads and Newt Gingrich has received “Mostly False” rating from PolitFact on several occasions: Here, here, and here as just three examples among others.
Efforts by Mitt and his Super PAC (aka “Death Star,” a moniker that has no doubt contributed to the negative meme that pervades this primary season) to defend his reputation against those charges have met with cries of “Negative campaigning!” and “Carpet bombing!” This has taken its toll with conservatives on blogs and Twitter, which proclaim that Mitt cannot be trusted. Added to the previous charges of multiple changes in positions, these have created a climate that is going to be difficult to change. Why all of this gets laid on Mitt is not explainable by any rational means. The only clear conclusion is to say that the winner-at-all-costs candidates in this race are Mitt’s opponents, not Mitt!
While this outcome is a surprise coming from fellow Republicans, the will to create this potentially lethal climate of accusations of falsehoods is be expected from Democrats and their sympathizers just as we see in an opinion piece in the New York Times by David Javerbaum, an award winning author (See Wikipedia) who is trying to be really clever with a metaphorical treatment that uses the wave-particle duality explanation for the nature of light as a way to explain who he thinks Mitt Romney really is.
Unfortunately, the fundamental premise proposed by Javerbaum , the analogy he uses, and the conclusion he reaches are all absolutely false, flawed, and false, in that order. The piece begins:
The recent remark by Mitt Romney’s senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom that upon clinching the Republican nomination Mr. Romney could change his political views “like an Etch A Sketch” has already become notorious. The comment seemed all too apt, an apparent admission by a campaign insider of two widely held suspicions about Mitt Romney: that he is a) utterly devoid of any ideological convictions and b) filled with aluminum powder.
As cute as the analogy might otherwise be, it is meaningless, given the false premise from which he begins his essay. He then proceeds from bad to worse by drawing a flawed analogy that outright accuses Mitt of having no core. His final conclusion is that Mitt will lose in November no matter which of his supposed multiple views he supports during the general election campaign. Indeed, about the only truth Javebaum states as well as the only thing to be learned from his piece is that an Etch A Sketch contains aluminum powder, which I was rather interested to learn.
With respect to what Fehrnstrom actually said in his Etch A Sketch comment, which I wrote about at the time, a clear review of the circumstance shows that he never said what is reported in the quote above. Where Javerbaum states categorically that Mitt would change his political views, Fehrnstrom instead spoke of resetting the campaign, which anyone familiar with American candidates will tell you is a rule of thumb for all campaigns, Democrat or Republican (“Run towards the base in the primaries and towards the center for the general!”)
Unfortunately for Mitt, however, the uncertainty/dishonesty meme is everywhere. Bill Clinton told Jake Tapper of ABC News:
The problem that Governor Romney has, is his character attack was ‘You don’t really know what he believes. He did this, he says that.’
How should the Etch A Sketch excitement have been handled to help avoid this outcome? Ken Makovsky, President of Makovsky + Company (the Midsize PR Agency of the Year for 2011) summarized in an opinion piece on Forbes.com how he felt the issue should have been handled:
I would have advised Romney to emphasize that his views as a politician have matured over the years, which accounts for his policy changes… the slate is always wiped clean when you move from the primaries to the main event… the dynamic changes, and the Etch A Sketch point had nothing to do with Romney’s position on issues.
I like that, and this is no doubt solid advice from someone who I guess knows how to handle these things. Unfortunately, it does not tell the full story. By every measure Mitt has lived a life of constancy and discipline. He has at every turn done what he has committed to do. The lying and irresponsible misrepresentations of his opponents have inflicted unwarranted damage on Mitt’s reputation. He does not deserve this.
We can only hope that as this campaign progresses, people will take a close look at Mitt, whose integrity is without blemish, his reputation is solid, his experience is extensive, and his record is nothing other than golden. I know of no one is smarter or who works harder than Mitt Romney, and I remain convinced that all these qualifications will become evident to voters as time progresses and they get to know him better.