It’s looking like 1976 again. A nation suffering from political post-traumatic stress syndrome (Watergate then, the economy now) is shying away from more of the same in Washington and ready for a less polarizing president or, in a more cynical view, open to the idea of keeping the Oval Office vacant.
Back then, enter Jimmy Carter, a peanut farmer who had gone to the Naval Academy and become governor of Georgia. His counterpart today is Mitt Romney, a Mormon missionary who made millions by cutting jobs in merging companies before becoming governor of Massachusetts.
Carter was a blank slate, Romney is a blackboard being continually erased and rewritten until all that’s visible is chalk dust.
Now Romney is back from vacation during the debt-ceiling battle, calling the President responsible for the credit downgrade.
With the GOP presidential field as it is, Romney looks like the compromise choice for all but those who would be willing to see the Party go down in ideological flames--if he can stay major gaffe-free in the coming months.
The White House seems to share this view and is preparing to run against him. “Unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments,” says one strategist, “he will have to kill Romney.”
The attack plan has two prongs—-picturing Romney as changeable and inauthentic to the point of being “weird” and tearing down his claims as an astute businessman.
“He was very, very good at making a profit for himself and his partners,” says David Axelrod, “but not nearly as good as saving jobs for communities. His is very much the profile of what we’ve seen in the last decade on Wall Street.”
As Democrats prepare to paint Romney as a retarded Gordon Gekko, the real weirdness will be in Iowa for the straw poll this weekend, with the usual rock bands, barbecue and ice cream as the collection of clowns who oppose him try to gain purchase for the primaries.
Leading the pack will be Michele Bachmann, fresh from a Newsweek cover that actually makes her look weird and assorted dwarves like Pawlenty and Santorum with an undeclared Rick Perry skulking off stage.
Romney, who lost to Huckabee in Iowa in 2008, will run a stealth campaign for the straw poll, showing up at four events and a TV debate, while pretending to turn up his nose at such events as the fried Oreo contest, in his usual strategy of trying to have it both ways.
Against this competition, Romney is looking good. Even Jimmy Carter would have stood a chance. But unless the President steps up to make his own case for reelection in the coming months, a largely negative campaign might put a President Romney in the White House.