Since before the first Republican debate, I have consistently stated in TV and print interviews that Mitt Romney would be the strongest Republican candidate against President Obama.
Full disclosure: I am strongly supporting the president for re-election. I think he’s done a good job starting out on his first day in the deepest economic hole faced by any president since FDR.
However, until recently, I believed that if the economic, unemployment and right-track/wrong-track numbers are as bleak on Election Day 2012 as they are today, Romney stands a good chance of defeating Obama — and is the only Republican candidate with any real general-election appeal.
But in recent weeks I have changed my mind. In recent months and indeed, in the last several days, Romney has increased his already serious problem of being a flip-flopper and coming across as inauthentic, and he has also showed serious political tone-deafness as a non-compassionate conservative.
Several recent examples come to mind. There was Romney’s insensitive statement in Las Vegas last week — in a state with the highest foreclosure rate in the nation — that he wanted to allow home foreclosures to “hit the bottom” to help the housing industry recover. That might be rational economic market theory — but it’s not an example of showing any empathy for the folks just blocks away from his press conference who are losing their homes to banks.
Next came the attack on Texas Gov. Rick Perry for supporting the children of illegal residents in Texas paying in-state tuition rates while attending Texas public colleges. But Romney apparently had forgotten that in Massachusetts he had supported a health care law that guaranteed illegal residents of the Bay State access to tax-subsidized health care.
Then there was Romney going to Ohio earlier this week and flip-flopping on his prior support for Gov. John Kasich’s law barring collective bargaining for public employee workers.
Just a few days ago, Romney criticized President Obama for his announcement that all U.S. military forces would be withdrawn from Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011. But he knew that the main reason for Obama’s rather sudden announcement was the Iraqi government’s intransigence over many months of continuing the grant of legal immunity for U.S. soldiers risking their lives, an immunity that the U.S. government has always insisted on, regardless of the administration. Yet Romney by innuendo suggested that Obama’s decision might have been politically motivated. In my view, that’s plain nasty.
Unless Romney (once again) flips and flops on these and other positions and is allowed to get away with it (which I don’t think he can), I believe this combination of flip-flops, insensitivity and even nastiness is politically fatal for him or any other candidate.
The most recent polls bear out my instincts that Romney will likely lose to Obama in 2012 even with no improvement in the economy. Given today’s high unemployment, low approval ratings and high wrong-track/right-track numbers, it appears that things could hardly get any worse for Obama. Yet every recent poll shows Obama versus Romney as either in a dead heat (Rasmussen and Democracy Corps) or Obama ahead (+4 by AP, +3 by Time magazine). A very recent poll shows President Obama with a significant lead over Romney in the crucial state of Ohio.
For this reason, I was confident enough to challenge Sean Hannity on Tuesday to take me up on a $1,000 bet that President Obama would be re-elected in 2012 — with the loser paying the money to the winner’s favorite charity.
Hannity immediately agreed.
So my message to my charity choice — the Washington, D.C., organization that cares for the homeless, So Others Might Eat: Expect a $1,000 check from Sean Hannity come November 2012.
Lanny Davis is the principal in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, which specializes in strategic crisis management. He served as President Clinton’s Special Counsel in 1996-98 and as a member of President Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in 2006-07. He is the author of “Scandal: How ‘Gotcha’ Politics Is Destroying America” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). He can be found on Facebook and Twitter (@LannyDavis).