Is Romney a “Wimp?”

Many of you may have read or heard about Mike Tomasky’s cover story for Newsweek entitled: “Mitt Romney’s Wimp Factor.” It’s a pretty savage piece that has some serious sport with “daddy party” pretensions about the “manliness” of conservative leaders.

What personally interests me about Romney’s “wimpiness,” if you want to use that loaded term, is that his transparently flexible principles create a toxic dynamic in his relationship with his own strongest supporters. Here’s how Tomasky puts it:

He’s the most risk-averse major politician to come along in ages. He accepted the job at Bain Capital only after wringing out of Bill Bain a promise that, if the venture failed, Mitt would be welcomed back to Bain & Co.—at his old levels of compensation and seniority—and that the press and public would be fed some happy talk about how it had all gone as intended. And why didn’t he leave Bain in 1999 to go run the Olympics, as he always said he had, but instead take his now-famous “leave of absence”? To have the option of coming back; to minimize the risk. Even his flip-flopping, his taking of positions all over the map, is a form of risk aversion, being all things to all people, able to placate any audience, never stuck out on a limb unable to satisfy.

There’s another conservative yardstick on which Romney comes up short: he’s too smart, as in clever or book-smart, to be a real Republican candidate. All those stories about how intensely data-driven he was at Bain, or as governor? Weird. Liberals, men of caution and contemplation, are obsessed with data. Conservative men are supposed to be men of action—they have hunches and play them. In this one sense Romney is just like a Massachusetts liberal. When it’s said that conservatives still don’t trust the guy, it’s not just his past moderate record they distrust, but also this sense of Romney as approaching issues intellectually instead of instinctively, producing the lurking unease that if he got into that Oval Office, Romney might one day look at the evidence and decide that, by Jiminy Cricket, global warming does exist!

Precisely because conservatives have abundant reasons not to trust him, along with abundant reasons to believe they can bully him, Romney will perpetually be in what I call the “primary phase” of his political career. And that will make him a weak president who is never quite the leader of his own political party. That’s why I was suggesting in an earlier post today that whatever names appear on the signs at the Republican Convention in Tampa and on the bumper stickers of all those red-state SUVs, the real ticket is Ryan-Romney. This has nothing to do with Romney’s “manliness” or “wimpiness,” and everything to do with the devil’s bargain that’s brought him to the brink of his Oval Office dreams.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.