Monday, October 29, 2012

What Romney Won't Run On: Mass Governor

On October 9 I posted the first of what are to be several articles on what Romney won't run on. At the time I said:
We have seen a curious pattern with Mitt Romney's campaign style over the months. Earlier in the year, Romney pointedly told us how qualified he is to be president and how proud he was of his accomplishments. And what have been his examples? 
Well, Bain, of course, except when people started to look into what private equity actually entails; more on that another day. Romney is positively bipolar regarding his single biggest achievement as Governor of Massachusetts, a state-wide health plan informally called Romneycare. More on that later, too.

And what about that stint as Governor of Massachusetts? Besides Romneycare. That was real executive experience, was it not? Look, he says, at his solid record of competence, and in a state dominated by Democrats. That's got to be a big plus.

Have you stopped to think about how little Mitt Romney actually talks about his record as Governor? Or to be more precise, how little you know about his four years at the helm. Romney is not shy to proclaim he created jobs, or he balanced the budget,but like so much else on his campaign stops, his declamations regarding his time in Massachusetts have a robotic, incomplete, Powerpoint feel to them. The man mindlessly recites focus group-approved bromides. In so doing, he often impatiently dictates to the listener, as if staying on message and getting your pet phrases into peoples' heads ––to do what? Show you have disciplined campaign?–– is more important that letting people actually get to know who you are. It is a campaign that is incredibly sanitized, so much so that Romney as a person cannot help but look stiff, unnatural, and aloof. Ask the man substantive questions and think carefully about how little is in his answers.

So how do the people of Massachusetts feel about their former governor? Are they behind his presidential effort? Voters there know him pretty well, and they remember his record. Jason Schwartz from Boston Magazine recently posted a lengthy piece on that state's recollections of Romney. Let's just say when Mitt tells his story, he's leaving a lot out. And before anyone starts foaming about how Massachusetts is full of socialists who hate freedom, it was they, not teabaggers from down south, or Utah, who decided that Romney had a message and actually voted him into office.

Schwartz reminds us that Romney was governor just six years ago. "Today he’s so unpopular here he’s barely bothering to campaign in the state. There are reasons for that—and they could spell doom for his presidential campaign."  Schwartz continues:
When he does talk about his time here as governor, it’s usually to pump up his bipartisan bona fides or brag about how he balanced the budget without raising taxes. (Strictly speaking, this is true, though helpfully devoid of context: All Massachusetts governors are constitutionally required to balance the budget, and while Romney technically may not have raised taxes, he did hike fees on a variety of government services.) What he does not discuss are the hugely successful bills he passed, like universal healthcare and an assault-weapons ban. Obviously, he also does not mention just how unpopular he was when he left office.
Schwartz understates Mitt's fee-raising spree. Romney was determined to not raise taxes but he had no qualms about hiking fees, often dramatically, on a wide range of services, licenses, permits, and the like.
So please, America, pay attention. There’s been too little talk about Romney’s time as governor of Massachusetts, and now that you’re deciding whether to make him our next president, it’s worth understanding just how and why he alienated the voters who know him best. Because the big problems that have been plaguing Romney on the campaign trail—that he’s personally inaccessible, that he’s had trouble unifying his party, that he’s become known as a flip-flopper—all have their roots in Massachusetts.
Schwartz goes on to relate the many people in Massachusetts who were taken aback by Romney's aloof unwillingness to communicate with mayors and other state officials. His activity seemed invariably orchestrated for political effect (not unique to Romney, of course). The problem was not the occasional grandstanding; it was the indifference and unwillingness to talk. 
Nor did Romney appear to connect any better with voters, despite what seemed like an auspicious start to his term...Romney created a bubble for himself, very similar to the one he’s employed while running for president. Out on the trail, he often seems robotic when trying to relate to people, and almost never answers impromptu questions from the press. When he does go off-script, the results are often poor...Given Romney’s obvious national aspirations while governor, it’s somewhat curious that he didn’t practice off-the-cuff exchanges more often. Apparently he believed that life outside the bubble was just as perilous for him then as it’s proving to be now.
Schwartz notes, as have others, that Romney has pretty much written off winning Massachusetts. He had lost interest in the state even while still governor. After a strong start in 2003-4, Romney "basically checked out of Massachusetts. He planned 78 town visits in 2005, and just 25 in the first 10 months of 2006 (the final two months of his 2006 schedules were missing from the records in the state archives). That year he spent all or part of 219 days outside the state, building his national profile."

Elected to run his state but loses interest halfway through? Who else does that remind you of?

There's so much more in the article. By all means, read it in its entirety.

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