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Why Romney lost: Was the candidate the problem?

Yes, the GOP needs to do more to broaden its appeal to minorities, young people, and women. But Romney's problems in reaching voters may have had less to do with policy than personality.

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We agree with the pundits who say that, in retrospect, it was incredibly ill-advised for the Republicans to nominate – during a cycle that was likely to be dominated by tales of economic hardship – a multimillionaire who had made his fortune in the kind of investment activity many Americans associate specifically with the crisis at hand.

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Liz Marlantes covers politics for the Monitor and is a regular contributor to the Monitor's political blog, DC Decoder.

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But Romney’s biography wasn’t the biggest problem. It was Romney himself.

He was never able to connect with voters on the trail. Worse, he wasn’t ever able to deliver a speech that sounded like he had any genuine political convictions. It always felt mechanical, artificial, like a series of talking points he’d just memorized. In a way, Romney’s political biography – with its moderate-to-conservative-and-back-to-sort-of-moderate-again path – may have been the bigger problem, if only because it seemed to reinforce the overall sense that there was no there there.  

True, Romney had that one good debate performance. But even that, in hindsight, seemed to conceal Romney more than it revealed him, since he spent most of it blurring differences between himself and the president.

And an inordinate (perhaps unfair) amount of the campaign wound up being devoted to Romney's awkward, off-script remarks. There was the infamous “47 percent” comment. The insult to the Brits during the Olympics. The “I have some friends who are NASCAR team owners” and “Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs.”

The problem with those types of comments weren’t that they highlighted Romney’s wealth, his plutocrat image. Rather, they highlighted his inability, in various types of social circumstances, to muster up appropriate responses. You can call it a lack of emotional intelligence. Or you can call it a lack of acting ability. (MSNBC actually had James Lipton, of Inside the Actor’s Studio, on as a guest repeatedly throughout this cycle to critique Romney’s style on the stump, and needless to say, Mr. Lipton was never impressed.).

Modern politicians are, for better or worse, performers – and to be successful, they must establish a genuine connection with their audience. Of course, they have to be serious too (Herman Cain was a natural performer, but he had nothing of substance to back it up). But they must get the public to buy their performance, and above all, seem comfortable in their own skin. Romney never did.


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