The scourge of ‘career politicians’

Mitt Romney, the apparent frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination as recently as a month ago, has a bit of a problem. Just over the last week, three national polls show him trailing Rick Perry by double digits. The former Massachusetts governor, who’s been content to ignore his GOP rivals, is probably going to go on the offensive against Perry before the race starts to slip away.

But what’s the best line of attack? In a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention today, Romney has apparently come up with an opening salvo.

According to excerpts of the speech released by his campaign, Mr. Romney plans to say: “Career politicians got us into this mess, and they simply don’t know how to get us out!”

It is an argument Mr. Romney has made repeatedly on the campaign trail — that he is not a career politician, and is one of the few candidates, having spent 25 years in the private sector, with the know-how to create jobs — but never in such a pointed contrast to Mr. Perry, who first entered politics in 1984 and has not lost an election since.

It certainly makes sense for Romney to start throwing some rhetorical jabs, but if he thinks “career politician” is going to do some damage, his instincts are way off.

For one thing, as campaign attacks go, it’s just dull. Is anyone seriously moved by rhetoric like this? “Don’t vote for my opponent; he’s devoted most of his adult life to public service”? It’s weak.

For another, Romney’s reliance on his private-sector background is itself problematic — he got rich by putting thousands of Americans out of work.

But even if we put all of that aside, the “career politician” line seems especially odd given Romney’s background. Isn’t this the guy who ran for the Senate in 1994, ran for governor in 2002, ran for president in 2008, and is running for president again in 2012? Indeed, by most measures, he’s been running for the White House continuously for more than four years.

In other words, wouldn’t Mitt Romney be a career politician, too, if only voters liked him a little more?