With Republicans everywhere wondering what has happened to the Mitt Romney campaign, people who know the candidate personally and professionally offer a simple explanation: It’s the candidate himself.
Slowly and reluctantly, Republicans who love and work for Romney are concluding that for all his gifts as a leader, businessman and role model, he’s just not a good political candidate in this era.
It kills his admirers to say it because they know him to be a far more generous and approachable man than people realize — far from the caricature of him being awkward or distant — and they feel certain he would be a very good president.
“Lousy candidate; highly qualified to be president,” said a top Romney official. “The candidate suit fits him unnaturally. He is naturally an executive.”
Romney himself has been a tough self-critic, telling “60 Minutes” correspondent Scott Pelley he has only himself to blame for missteps such as the secret video of him writing off 47 percent of Americans as ungovernable and out of reach to him politically. “[T]hat’s not the campaign. That was me, right?” He made a similar remark when questions were raised about his campaign during the primaries, telling reporters: “The candidate sometimes makes some mistakes, and so I’m trying to do better and work harder.”
That comment captures precisely why his closest confidants think he is a much better, bigger and more qualified man than often comes through on the trail. He treats his staff with respect, works hard on his weaknesses and does all of it because he possesses supreme confidence in his capacity to lead effectively.
“He’s a great leader, but he’s not a great politician,” said a top member of Romney’s organization. “As much as we complain about politicians, we like a good politician. He doesn’t have the hand-on-the-shoulder thing. He’s not quick-witted. He’s an analytical, data-driven businessperson.”
And that’s the problem: His résumé and his personal style seem ill-suited for the moment. He’s a son of privilege who made hundreds of millions in private equity who is running in the first election since the 2008 economic meltdown — a meltdown many blame on rich, Wall Street tycoons. And he’s a socially stiff relic of a pre-ironic America, who struggles with improvisation and personal connections when the constant lens of the Web demands both.
Others have overcome innate political limitations on the way to the White House, including George H.W. Bush and Richard Nixon. But for Romney to do so, his advisers know they have 40 days to make his fundamental strength — a track record of high professional achievement — erase concerns about his weaknesses as a political performer.