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December 11, 2011 11:40 AM Those who saw Romney’s leadership up close

By Steve Benen

There’s a traditional model for presidential candidates when it comes to their pre-announcement career trajectory. It’s pretty straightforward: an official gets elected to a prominent office, he/she does well, his/her constituents are impressed, and the official parlays that success into a national campaign.

In recent decades, this is the path Obama, Bush, Clinton, and Reagan all took from statewide office to the White House. It’s always fascinated me how poorly Mitt Romney fits this model.

He was governor from 2003 to 2007, and as Edward Mason and Tom Mashberg explained the other day, Romney failed to impress much of anyone.

“His favorability was basically a straight line down from his honeymoon,” said David Paleologos, director of Suffolk University’s Political Research Center and a longtime Massachusetts pollster. “Sometimes familiarity breeds contempt.” […]

Romney entered the Massachusetts State House in January 2003 with a flashy favorability rating of 61 percent…. By November 2004, voters were souring, and a Suffolk poll found his favorable rating had dropped to 47 percent.

A year later, that rating sank another 14 points. Just 33 percent of Bay State voters had a favorable opinion of Romney in 2005, according to Suffolk, while 49 percent were unfavorable.

Things did not improve in 2006, when Suffolk found that his unfavorable rating had risen to 55 percent while his favorable remained stagnant.

By November 2006, as he closed out his increasingly absentee term, his overall job approval rating had cratered to 36 percent.

Thomas Whalen, a Boston University political science professor, put it this way: “To know Mitt Romney is to dislike him. That is the moral of the story.”

Maybe he looks better in hindsight? No, Romney’s former constituents still don’t like him and still don’t want him to be president.

Maybe it’s because he was a GOP governor in a reliably “blue” state? No, Massachusetts has had plenty of modern Republican governors — Weld, Cellucci, Swift — and all were more popular with their Bay State constituents than Romney.

This is all generally overlooked, which is a shame because it seems pretty important. We’re talking about a politician who’s held public office just once, for a grand total of four years. During that one term, his constituents got a good look at his leadership, and came to actively dislike him.

Romney looked at this and thought, “Hey, now I’m ready for a promotion to the White House!”

This really ought to come up on the campaign trail more often. Here’s the sample question reporters can ask Romney: why were you so woefully unpopular with your own constituents when voters gave you a chance to lead?

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • navamske on December 11, 2011 11:49 AM:

    "Thomas Whalen, a Boston University political science professor, put it this way: 'To know Mitt Romney is to dislike him. That is the moral of the story'."

    Frank Rich put it this way: "Mitt Romney is the un-Sally Field. People really, really don't like him."

  • c u n d gulag on December 11, 2011 11:56 AM:

    1. The man ain't got no soul.
    2. The man ain't go no sense of humor.
    3. You know in your heart that he's nothing but a rich douchebag.

  • patrick II on December 11, 2011 12:16 PM:

    reporters can ask Romney: why were you so woefully unpopular with your own constituents

    Healthcare

  • majun on December 11, 2011 12:23 PM:

    Romney totally screwed up his one shot at public office, his only real notable achievement in life, the Olympics, was achieved by prying more money out of the public coffers. He should be dead in the water, but he keeps chugging along. Now he is battling it out with a disgraced former Speaker of the House whose political career should have ended 15 years ago. And yet there he is leading the pack as the primary season fast approaches. By rights these guys should be dead and buried and long forgotten, but they refuse to die.

    This is truly a Zombie campaign, where the undead are battling it out for the leadership of the free world.

  • Mark-NC on December 11, 2011 12:24 PM:

    The old model is gone. The new version is the Sarah Palin model.

    Quit your job - you are now Presidential!

  • Anonymous on December 11, 2011 12:36 PM:

    past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior (as a psychologist and they'll verify this). OTOH, people, including elite professionals and scientists routinely ignore past behavior, even though it is often readily available. Most of the MSM types have neglected to make even the most Cliff Notes-like examination of Mitt's time as governor, even though it would be highly instructive and perhaps consistent with some of his later behavior. Similarly, the bankruptcies and, especially, job losses related to Bain's management and sale of companies has not gotten the attention it deserves. Health care (wherein he needed to counter a more comprehensive Dem proposal) and the Olympics (a one-time showbiz thing that's kindof irrelevant to running a government) have gotten more attention, but still, very little critical examination.

  • DAY on December 11, 2011 12:41 PM:

    Here at "Virtual Politics" we often spend waaaay too much time in that arcane world.

    Once again my analogy: Baseball has the Hot Stove League, Spring Training, and 162 games that a teams fans may follow, but the public at large doesn't tune in until Game One of the World Series.
    In presidential politics, that is Labor Day, 2012

    And-once again- I turn to the bard: "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
    But hey! The regulars here are sure enjoying the Freak Show.

  • markg8 on December 11, 2011 12:42 PM:

    "This is truly a Zombie campaign, where the undead are battling it out for the leadership of the free world."

    majun these guys are vying for the right to get beaten like a drum by the leader of the free world.

  • Neil B on December 11, 2011 1:06 PM:

    Comparing Mitt to Newt: What does it say about today's Republicans, that Newt Gingrich is their front runner? Sure, I can appreciate "forgiveness" but Newt is currently married to the woman he started an affair with while married to his previous wife. That's like keeping something you stole, and asking for "forgiveness." Those people used to say "character counts", what happened?

    "Fine minds make fine distinctions."

  • FlipYrWhig on December 11, 2011 1:09 PM:

    IIRC his bit about this the last time around was that he was bringing tough love to a blue state. I remember Jon Stewart mocking a line Romney used about how MA was such a blue state it was like a blue suit that was practically black. Stewart said that if a multimillionaire was looking to show the common touch, he probably shouldn't draw metaphors from haberdashery.

  • Simon S. on December 11, 2011 1:47 PM:

    "Why were you so unpopular with your constituents?" is a gimme question. You can just say "I took the tough decisions" yadda yadda, and it doesn't matter whether that's even remotely true or not.

  • Mimikatz on December 11, 2011 2:15 PM:

    Interesting that Newt has the same problem. Those who knew him best as speaker ousted him after a four years, while Romney quit after four years because it was evident he wouldn't be reelected.

    Nixon could reinvent himself and become President, but it is hard to believe in the age of YouTube and the net archives at it si as easy.

  • j on December 11, 2011 2:33 PM:

    There was an ad when Mittens was running for the Kennedy senate seat about when Romney had Bain Capital, many ordinary people were saying how he caused so much suffering
    to families when they were thrown out of work by his company, he slashed jobs without a single twinge of remorse while making money out of doing it. Romney was the true vulture capitalist. Now he has many mansions, his wife I believe imports her horses from France (where he hid during Vietnam to avoid the draft. He is simply greedy, awful and not a nice human being.ACTS. tlizati

  • c u n d gulag on December 11, 2011 2:36 PM:

    And let's not forget what happened when people had seen enough of Newt's leadership - they basically booted his stinking fat ass out!

  • jjm on December 11, 2011 2:40 PM:

    The people who saw Newt Gingrich's 'leadership' up close really despise him. His own party threw him out of the Speakership, and as Axelrod said, he was the godfather of gridlock, bitter partisanship, and a whole lot of pompous 'theories' that are totally whacko.

    So what's the difference? A desultory, unlikeable Romney who made his money as a vampire, or an even more unlikeable Gingrich who spawned half a generation of horror while enriching himself by being a lobbyist who pretended he was not one?

  • Caffiend on December 11, 2011 2:47 PM:

    Nixon could reinvent himself and become President...

    He didn't do it all by himself. Sirhan Sirhan had more than a little to do with Nixon being elected in 1968.

  • Gummo on December 11, 2011 3:14 PM:

    Thomas Whalen, a Boston University political science professor, put it this way: “To know Mitt Romney is to dislike him. That is the moral of the story.”

    The average Rethug just reads that and thinks, Oh, so Mitt Romney is a dick. Good, we need a dick in the White House to fuck those evil liberals. But Newt Gingrich is an even bigger dick than Romney. Decisions, decisions.

    As far as they're concerned, it's an embarrassment of riches.

    To the rest of us, it's just an embarrassment.

  • chi res on December 11, 2011 4:39 PM:

    His record is SO IMPORTANT because, as we all KNOW FOR CERTAIN, it's TOTALLY IMPOSSIBLE to BUY AN ELECTION in Amerika.

    Right?

  • a on December 11, 2011 4:45 PM:

    So Romney's approval rating fell 25% in four years.

    Obama's approval rating has fallen 25% in just three years. Are you sure you wish to pursue this avenue of attack?

  • j on December 11, 2011 5:01 PM:

    Quick someone call the Mormon Church, I don't think they allow gambling.
    Also, if Romney had been elected instead of Obama in 2008
    think what a mess we would be in.He only knows how to kill jobs and had the worst jobs rate (nearly = No 47) in the country as Governor of Mass.

  • N.Wells on December 11, 2011 6:06 PM:

    Romney's job at Bain was basically to be an asset stripper, which is in effect what the very rich want him to do to America. Being popular or not is irrelevant, as long as he can manage to get his hands on the reins of power. However, there is plenty of time to bring up his difficulties as governor and his job destruction at Bain if he becomes the Republican candidate.

    I wonder if discussions of how to combat falling popularity were sufficiently embarrassing to be why the Romney team was so eager to destroy all the emails? (Seems too small an embarrassment - it smells more like a cover-up of a scandal that they managed to keep the lid on.)

    More broadly, familiarity breeding dislike has been an ongoing theme with a surprisingly large number of Republican politicians in the last decade or two. Perhaps a smart voter might learn a lesson from that.

  • Doug on December 11, 2011 6:56 PM:

    a @ 4:45PM, yes. Mr. Obama's approval rating began high, have declined and risen several times, and are now moving upward. Mittens' ratings started high, declined steadily and NEVER improved.
    There's a difference...

  • exlibra on December 11, 2011 7:01 PM:

    Obama's approval rating has fallen 25% in just three years. Are you sure you wish to pursue this avenue of attack? -- a, @4:45PM

    You betcha, I do! I'm looking not just at how much the approval has fallen, but also how far. Obama may have seen his approval numbers sink, but not to 33% level. You had better not hold your breath in hope; you just might turn blue and I'm sure you'd hate it.

  • Texas Aggie on December 11, 2011 7:22 PM:

    It seems to me that Gingrich is more in tune with the famous base than Romney is. Just look at the polls. Having said that, don't you think it's about time we forgot about tearing down Romney and work on getting the Gingrich history out there?

  • EnoughIsEnough on December 11, 2011 7:41 PM:

    a - It's PRESIDENT Obama. Y'all just can't stand it. Well the President's numbers have indeed fluctuated. But it's fascinating that even with all the obstruction from the entire Republican Party and its operatives, they have NOT been able to sink him.

  • Stuart on December 11, 2011 7:49 PM:

    Romney's gotten a free ride because he's the one person in the Republican field who conducts a campaign the way we've come to expect a campaign to be run. We've been so focussed on the problems/shortcomings/crazy statements of Bachmann, Cain, Perry, and Gingrich we haven't paid much attention to Romney. It's kind of like if your house is on fire, you don't really notice that your car is a Yugo. Once the fire is out, you'll realize you've got a pretty bad car, but until that happens your car doesn't seem half bad in the odd moments you turn your attention from your burning house to your car. The thing that will hurt Romney is the moment the crazies start to get filtered out of the race, attention will focus on what a mediocre candidate Romney now is.

  • Rich on December 11, 2011 8:06 PM:

    Nixon spent years speaking for Republican office holders all over the country. His usual stump speeches were filled hacktacular cliches, but they probably would seem like Shakespeare now and were no worse than what his hosts could say. In any event, he did this and slowly built up a great deal of goodwill all over the country. In the final analysis, Nixon was feared or pitied more than truly respected, but that along with the political capital he raised with his party's rank and file pols, was enough to bring him back from the wilderness. Coming back in the midst the Democrat's great divide and drawing politically emasculated Humprhey and the politically inept McGovern cinched the presidency for him twice. Despite John Ashbrook's long forgotten challenge from the Right and Nixon's own worries about the Goldwaterites, he was never in any danger of a serious rightwing challenge.

    Nixon seems both plodding and practically subtle in comaprison to bozos like Gingrich and Romney. Nixon kept coming up with new Nixons, but ultimately they all were the same center Right, self-pitying Red baiter who would do anything to win. In that respect, he seems rock solid compared with these two. Gingrich has no attention span, let alone a real set of core ideas and Romney is much the same, without the need for Adderal. Nixon was a master campaign strategist whose insecurities ultimately undermined his ability to govern (much the same could be said of LBJ, too). Newt and Mittens don't even have those strengths.

  • AK Liberal on December 12, 2011 12:30 AM:

    Pinch me. On second thought don't. The idea of Obama leading both Romney and Gingrich in South Carolina is a delicious dream!

  • Repack Rider on December 12, 2011 12:52 AM:

    Reagan set a standard for suit emptiness that until now had not been surpassed. But Reagan could at least tell a joke, even if his humor tended toward the mean spirited, and he was an actor who faked sincerity as a profession.

    Mitt, not so much. He can't tell a joke and he has absolutely no idea of how real people feel, so his fake sincerity is unconvincing. The vacuum inside Mitt's suit approaches the vacuum between galaxies.

  • gottacook on December 12, 2011 12:59 AM:

    Isn't it possible that Romney wants to be president because he thinks his father should have been, and for no better reason than that?

  • square1 on December 12, 2011 2:06 AM:

    In recent decades, this is the path Obama, Bush, Clinton, and Reagan all took from statewide office to the White House.

    Jesus Fucking Christ. Did Steve Benen just say that George W. Bush was a successful governor? Look, I know that Benen wants to attack Romney. But can we please draw the line at a revisionist history that remakes Bush as a successful statesman?

    Bush was a joke as a governor. Everybody knew it, even Republicans. The entire country accepted that the position was a resume polisher for a Presidential run. The only reason that Bush won in 2000 was that it was a post-Cold War, pre-9/11 period where for a brief period of time it was not considered insane to (a) choose a President by who you most wanted to share a beer with at a BBQ and (b) choose an alcoholic.

  • tanstaafl on December 12, 2011 3:06 AM:

    I do wish Steve had been more specific, but I just assumed that he was refering to George H.W. Bush who had a very good resume. At least until he became VP to Reagan and gave up what few things he stood for in order to run on Reagan's record.

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  • Ted Frier on December 12, 2011 2:04 PM:

    Well, how would you feel if your own Governor joked about you to get laughs on the national campaign trail? Mitt Romney: truely a stranger in his own land.

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