Philip Maddocks: Seeking a new advantage, Romney courts out-of-touch voters without convictions
As he heads into the general election — the Republican nomination all but assured — Mitt Romney is trying to quiet doubts about his chances in the general election by playing up his strength among out-of-touch voters who are willing to say whatever it takes to win favor.
“There are some candidates who talk the talk — and I think you know who I am talking about — but I am the only one out there who has walked the walk that you have. Check my record. You’ll see,” Mr. Romey, told a gathering during a stump speech in a cornfield outside Lincoln, Neb.
Mr. Romney’s speech, sprinkled with lengthy anecdotes about his history of indecisiveness and detachment from the common man, seemed to resonate with many at the gathering. Most appeared uncomfortable in the presence of the candidate, shifting stiffly from foot to foot and applauding at inappropriate times during the address. But Mr. Romney’s theme — that he doesn’t just flaunt his vacillation and awkwardness when it is politically expedient — seemed to hit home with the out-of-touch voting bloc.
“Irresolution and aloofness are at the core of my being; they’re not something I need to pretend to believe in,” he said.
Mr. Romney insisted that he is the only one in the race who is capable of speaking for voters who have been judged untrustworthy, calculating, too eager to please, and dull.
“I know how you think,” he said. “Maybe you are for and against a woman’s right to choose. Maybe you are for and against a health insurance mandate. Maybe you are for and against raising taxes on businesses. You name it, you, me, all of us are for and against it. I call that leadership and I also call that leadership that has been sorely lacking. How about you?”
“That’s OK,” he added as the crowd shifted nervously. “Take some time. Think about it. Talk it over with your advisors. I’ll have my wife talk to Diane Sawyer for you. But the main thing to remember is that I will give voice to your insincerity in a way that no one else in the race can.”
Mr. Romney said he is working hard to close the so-called “empathy gap” with voters. Earlier this week the Republican candidate told a group of workers at an automobile factory in Michigan that he “couldn’t begin to understand their suspicion of his campaign.”
“But I do have first-hand experience with your frustrations with my changing positions,” he said. “There are days that I, too, wonder did I really mean what I just said. But this I can promise you, that with your indifferent support, I will say whatever it takes to get us both through this.”
Though some conservative Republican voters remain guarded about Mr. Romney, there have been some promising signs for the candidate recently, including an almost endorsement from one-time GOP rival and fierce critic, Michele Bachmann, which shows just how much the former Massachusetts governor has succeeded in taming the passions of his almost supporters.
And as Congress was set to reconvene on Monday, House Republicans seemed to have taken notice of Mr. Romney’s appeal among indifferent voters. Many acknowledged a near readiness to impassively coalesce around him as the party’s candidate, saying they are warily confident that the presumptive nominee would be able to achieve the delicate balance of winning over the uninterested bloc of voters without sparking any emotion from those more inclined to cast their ballot in November for President Obama.
While Mr. Romney has eagerly embraced Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan on how to manage the federal budget and its related entitlement programs — campaigning with Mr. Ryan by his side and calling him “bold and brilliant” — the GOP presidential frontrunner said that his supporters shouldn’t mistake that as a display of unbridled conviction and unqualified principle.
“While I am out here, running for the highest office in the greatest country in the world with the best voters in God’s universe — and did I mention that I believe that God is a woman whom I will help find a job — well, I am only answerable to you, the voter who is sick of politics as a game of beliefs and ideological litmus tests,” Mr. Romney maintained. “Let’s admit that there is room for a candidate who puts his personal gain and achievement above everyone else’s — a candidate like you and me. And let’s admit that there is a place for that candidate in the greatest democracy in the world. And let’s take a stand, sort of, and vote that candidate into office.”
Philip Maddocks is a political satire columnist for GateHouse News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.