Feeling sorry for Mitt Romney: Opinion Focus with Eugene Robinson

Jun 14, 2011

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson discusses his recent columns and the latest news in a live Q&A. In his most recent column, "What’s a pragmatic front-runner like Mitt Romney to do?," Robinson writes, "Like Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani and quite a few others who never got to be president, Romney has the misfortune of being an early front-runner. Normally, we’d expect the rest of the field to make an issue of every crazy, intemperate thing the leading candidate has ever said or done. This year, however, the pack is assailing Romney with documented examples of chronic, blatant, incorrigible moderation. Even — shudder — pragmatism."

Have a question about his column or anything else? Ask now.

Hi, everyone, and welcome to our weekly chat. Did you catch that prime-time excitement on TV? No, I don't mean the GOP debate last night, I'm talking about about Game 6 of the NBA finals on Sunday. All right, if you insist, we'll talk about the debate. Earlier in the day, I wrote a column about how the others have been bashing Mitt Romney. Then comes the debate, and they don't even take a swing at him, much less land a punch. That's no way to win, T-Paw. Let's get started.

I think Mitt has much bigger problems than you mention. I think he has seemed from this first run like he is totally inauthentic. People pick up on that and wonder about what he really thinks and believes. Instead he exaggerates and makes up things that don't ring true. The same reason why a lot of people didn't like Al Gore, although much of that was more of a media creation than reality. But I think his biggest obstacle with the primary electorate could very well be the Mormon thing, even though no one in the media wants to mention it. Those wacko Christians who vote in the GOP primary will have a very hard time voting for a Mormon.

I believed in 2008, and believe now, that in many ways Romney would be a formidable candidate. But I do think about a Democrat who recently lost -- not Al Gore, but John Kerry. On paper, he has everything. But something is not quite there. And on top of that, he was for the individual insurance mandate before he was against it. And on top of that, the Mormon question. So I don't know.

As someone who usually votes conservative, but dislikes the currently unreality of both parties, I agree with some of the characterizations in today's column. But the Republican part does not nominate nutcases for President. John McCain, George W Bush as of 2000, and Robert Dole are not Jesse Helms and Newt Gingrich. Mitt Romney might be one of the politicians like Joe Lieberman or Arnold Schwareneggar, who can win a general election, but the nomination of either party. Which is too bad, because we're not going to solve the deficit by given the government to either party.

It's true that the GOP, in the end, tends to give the nomination to the guy -- it's always been a guy -- next in line. But that was before the Tea Party, and it's possible that the rules have changed. In any event, we're pretty much stuck with parties, however dysfunctional they may be.

Can we stop talking about Pawlenty as a serious candidate? He has gone so far on the religion that he is now to the right of Bachman. An dhe missed his chance to go man-o-mano with Romney. He will be gone after Iowa.

T-Paw had an atrocious night, in my view. His basic problem is that he wants to position himself as the anti-Romney, but that means he has to at least match Romney is stature and presence. He looked, frankly, as if he were afraid to say to Romney's face what he had said behind his back.  Made him look very small.

Why would one feel sorry for Romney? He is presidential, smart and is the frontrunner. I would tend to feel a bit sorry, a tiny bit, for Obama as he has to face the public and cover up the mess he has made of everything he has touched.

President Obama is going to have to deal with the economy, and he needs to come up with a message on jobs that connects with voters. Romney does look "presidential," but incumbents have the advantage of being, you know, the actual president. Eliminating Osama bin Laden may not have given him a permanent bump in the polls, but it did eliminate soft-on-terrorism as a line of attack. I like his odds.

I would really like to see a real questioning of the candidates. The way "debates" are structured now, respondents are not questioned about their answers. For example, the candidates were posed various abortion questions, and in response to the questions they each stated (except for Pawlenty, who dodged) an unequivocal support for ALL life, from before birth until natural death. I would have loved to see a questioner follow up with, "What about the death penalty" or with a question about whether illegal immigrants are entitled to life-saving medical care. Then the candidates might actually have to admit that their moral code is not as simple as it seems - there are inconsistencies and nuances that they never like to address.

There are different ways to structure televised debates. None is great for asking follow-up questions, and I thought last night's format was all over the map. "Elvis or Johnny Cash"??? Cute, but calorie-free.

Do you think, after even Fox News (in the person of Chris Wallace) shredded T-Paw's proposed budget, that Tim stands the proverbial snowball-in-hell's chance?

A bad performance by Pawlenty last night was the culmination of what I saw as a really bad week. It's never good when your economic plan is greeted with peals of laughter. 

Might Michele Bachmann have violated an unwritten rule by upstaging all the other debaters last night with her formal Presidential candidacy announcement last night? I thought it was really tacky.

I don't know of any such unwritten rule. Upstaging is the whole point of these early debates.

Thank the Unions and the Dems bubba. Little Timmy P tax plan will do more to bring abck the middle class then anything proposed by Prez, Harry or Comrade Pelosi. Tax increases on the rich arent the answer, lowering the value of the dolalr and jacking up the price of gas isnt the answer and having the NLRB tell Boeing where it can and cant build palnes is not the answer. A National Right to Work law is, getting rid of gun control in large American cities and Little Timmy's tax plan are a good start. Do you have a better idea or are you all talk like Le Bron?

Getting rid of gun control in large cities is going to bring back the middle class? Give me a break. Pawlenty's economic plan can't even be described as "flawed."  It's not a plan at all, it's a wish. Even if his ridiculous growth projections came true, which they can't possibly, he would increase the deficit by $2 trillion over ten years. More realistically, his tax cuts would cost between $5.8 trillion and $11.6 trillion over a decade.

Dear Eugene, It feels crazy to write this, as I am no fan of Gingrich, but I thought his answers were articulate and sharp. One can see why he is regarded as intellectual (even if I think some of his ideas are loopy). Did he get any traction from the debate? Has anyone in the press or politics come out for him after the debate? Thanks!

No traction that I know of. Gingrich is full of ideas, yes, and some are interesting, but many are ridiculous. I give him credit for actually answering the questions he was asked, instead of filibustering. But he seemed so... so 1994. Plus, his whole paid campaign staff quit last week. I think it's almost buh-bye time.

I wonder why Romney recently said that he believed human activity was contributing to global warming. Even if that's what he privately believes, he knows that's pretty much apostasy in the Republican party. I think better of him for saying it, but what possible reason would he have for doing so?

That has been his position, and I have to assume it's what he really believes. It certainly does him no good in the Republican primaries and caucuses.

What I got from the reporting on Sarah Palin's emails is that she has no sense of proportion re which fights are worth fighting and which ones aren't. Thus, e.g., she made a big deal over defending against a minor criticism that she missed the Miss Alaska pageant, which by now no one would have remembered, and was already paranoid about main-stream press coverage. Can you imagine Palin bringing such a mindset to the Presidency, when it comes to dealing with, say, foreign leaders?

I've found plenty of reasons to bash Sarah Palin in the past and I'm sure I'll find plenty more in the future, but I haven't seen or heard of anything in the e-mails worth mention, much less censure. I hope it does not come as a shock that she's not the first politician I've ever encountered who could, at times, be thin-skinned or petty. In fact, I've seen much worse.

Non-debate question - What do you think of the escalation of the attacks in Yemen, and do you believe that the War Powers Act should apply here? If it's only drones and no pilots, does it count as a war?

You mean, "Does it count as a war... yet?" I'm really worried about the Yemen situation. We've had reports in our paper about how al-Qaeda-linked militants are taking advantage of the power vacuum and trying to carve out territory for themselves. Drones are instruments of war -- but the real question is, what happens when the CIA and the military tell the president that we need more than drones. I think the War Powers Act should have applied in all our ongoing and prospective wars, but I don't think any president is going to agree.

Did Jon Huntsman hurt his chances by missing last night's debate?

Only a little, I think. He still has enough time to come in and try to establish himself as the alternative to Mitt Romney. His problem, I think, is that he's too much like Romney. The prospective candidate who has a better chance of becoming the anti-Romney, it seems to me, is Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Do you think that Joe Biden & Hillary Clinton will switch jobs before the 2012 election so that she would be in a better postion as VP to run for the White House in 2016?

No, I don't. I think Joe Biden will run for reelection, and I believe Hillary Clainton when she says she's finished running for president.

Because of his mannerisms and his forthright (to put it politely) nature, I do not see Ron Paul as having a real chance at the nomination. It cannot be ignored however, that his platform has gained in popularity since the last election. Will we see Romney or other frontrunners adopt any of his libertarian ideas?

No. They will try not to alienate his followers, but they won't start advocating a return to the gold standard. I think. (Unless that's buried somewhere in Pawlenty's economic plan.)

So, Romney calls the president a failure and talks about how he has allegedly ruined America. Has he set forth any plan to fix what he thinks ails us? Is it just more tax cuts and spending cuts? How is he going to "create" jobs? Attacking is one thing, but you gotta have something positive to say about yourself to win, right?

He will have to tell us how he plans to make everything better. He'll also have to explain why Massachusetts' job-creation record was so lackluster during his tenure. And someone might even be rude enough to ask him how many workers lost their jobs when their companies were taken over by Romney's firm, Bain Capital, and "restructured" by stripping them of their assets and outsourcing work that once was done in-house.


That's it for today, folks. Thanks for participating, and I'll see you again next week.

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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