JULY 1, 2008
Over on the Plank, Jon Cohn tried to make the case for Mitt Romney as John McCain's vice president. Eve Fairbanks thinks it's a terrible idea:
My brilliant colleague Jon Cohn is almost always dead on
target, but I think Mitt Romney's shameless Michigan pandering has gone to his head. I
know Romney's the flavor of the week on McCain's veep list, but I couldn't disagree
more with Jon that he'd be a good
choice for McCain.
Jon plugs Romney's "expertise on economic policy," but he
isn't an economist, he's a businessman - and a smooth-talking corporate honcho straight
out of central casting, at that. As mega-finance firms like the Blackstone Group
and Countrywide come to be seen as villains in our economic slump, I think Romney's
CEO manner and private equity background (the private equity firms,
remember, were the ones who were splashily accused last summer of exploiting a
tax loophole) could be received by your average voter with as much suspicion as
warmth. Is this fair? Not really -- Romney got out of the private equity biz a while ago. But is it the reality? Quite possibly. I can see sub-rosa
populist, anti-CEO attacks working against Romney in the candidates' bid for
the working class.
And even if his business background doesn't work against
him, there's not a lot of evidence (besides in Michigan, dad George Romney's former
stomping grounds) that people ever really bought in to Romney's so-called
genius on economic matters. In Missouri,
for example, which voted on Super Tuesday, a whopping 44% of voters identified
the economy as the most important issue affecting their vote -- but these
economy voters narrowly chose McCain.
Jon also likes that Romney's "squeaky-clean." Well, by the
dead-girl-or-live-boy rubric, sure, I suppose, although I think Jon too airily
dismisses the exquisitely weird strapping-the-dog-to-the-roof episode. (After
all, if Mitt Romney can't figure out how to get all the live cargo packed into
his car when going on vacation, how can he be trusted to run the country?)
But Romney's less than squeaky clean in another way: During the primaries,
he proved himself perhaps the most deliciously mockable mainstream Republican candidate
this side of Lamar Alexander. And as he marched along from primary loss to
primary loss, he accumulated a rich trail of ridicule behind him, much of it from
right-wingers, and which could just be rehashed verbatim in a general election
by gleeful Democrats. If you're Barack Obama, why produce your own attack
against Mitt Romney when you can just reprint "Romney vs. Romney," a withering
indictment by the Weekly Standard?
Romney has little in common with McCain. Theirs would be a
marriage for money and for convenience, not for love. But the trait he does share with Mac isn't a good one:
flip-flopping. That McCain, far from being a straight-talker, is actually a flip-flopper, an opportunist, and a panderer to
the right is a meme Democrats are fiercely trying to push, and the selection of "Flip" Romney as a running mate would very much
enhance their ability to do so. A good veep pick ought to send a symbolic
message -- but not, hopefully, the message that you have, finally, fully welcomed
pandering into your life.
If nothing else, suggests Jon, Romney at least is good on
the attack. But the willingness to do or say anything in order to prevail isn't
necessarily synonymous with being "good" on the attack, just as a piece of
heavy artillery that spastically burps out cannonballs in every direction wouldn't
be the best weapon to bring to a knife fight. If he were so good at attacking,
why did his attacks only seem to help McCain during the primaries? Maybe it's
because the overeager Romney just doesn't know when to stop. Consider the memorable and much-ridiculed volley Romney lobbed against Hillary and Obama on "Hannity & Colmes" shortly
after dropping out of his primary race:
When it comes to national security, John McCain is the big dog, and they
are the Chihuahuas.
Arf! From my mischief-making perspective, Romney can't get
on the big dog's ticket soon enough.