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The flip sides of Mitt Romney

August 31, 2012
TAMPA, (Florida): The management skills and determination that made Mitt Romney so effective in business as he amassed a huge fortune and turned around the Salt Lake City Olympics are fine White House credentials.

But policy flip flops, awkward social skills and a Mormon faith that he is reluctant to discuss fill out the complex portrait of a man who finds it hard to hide how desperately he wants to be the next leader of the free world.

A cut-throat venture capitalist or a skilled manager with the business acumen to turn around the American economy? A cunning political chameleon or a flip-flopping fake with secret liberal leanings?

Reading the press about the 65-year-old former Massachusetts governor who accepted the Republican nomination yesterday to take on President Barack Obama in the November 6 election, there could be two Mitt Romneys.

A hard-to-like figure, especially for staunch conservatives who doubt he really shares their views on hot-button issues such as gay marriage and abortion, Romney is certainly a difficult character to pin down.

Throughout a roller-coaster Republican primary season, rivals struggled to land telling blows on the former Boston venture capitalist who managed to stay above the fray while giving off the air of an inevitable nominee.

Texas Governor Rick Perry got up his nose during one feisty exchange by accusing him of hiring illegal workers, and Romney was constantly on the defensive about his Mormon faith, but it was mostly plain sailing.

With his brimming war-chest and glut of high-profile endorsements, he did however lack one commodity: solid conservative credentials.

Despite lingering doubts, all appeared forgiven on Thursday night as the party faithful crowns him the nominee after accepting he is candidate with the best chance of beating Obama.

During the bitter Republican primary campaign, the multimillionaire businessman demonstrated a tin ear with a string of wealth-related gaffes that made it all too easy for opponents to portray him as out of touch with ordinary Americans.

“Romney seems to be suffering some real difficulty in coming across as that friendly and likable person,” Charles Franklin, political science professor at the University of Madison-Wisconsin and co-founder of Pollster.com, told AFP.

“Back in 2000 it was Al Gore who was unusually stiff and had a very hard time coming off as casual with voters under practically any circumstance. John Kerry in 2004 also had some problems seeming like an average guy.”

Romney’s image received a carefully scripted makeover during this week’s convention in Tampa, Florida as the Republican White House hopeful tries to close the yawning likability gap between himself and Obama.

Wife Ann invoked their love story as high school sweethearts to show the human side of a man whose ram-rod straight bearing is lampooned as too stiff, and whose immaculately-coifed hair is clearly too perfect.

“It has been 47 years since that tall, kind of charming young man brought me home from our first dance. Not every day since has been easy. But he still makes me laugh,” she said.

The couple’s visibly squeaky-clean and loving family life — they have been married for 43 years and have five sons and 16 grandchildren — is a clear vote-winner and has been trumpeted throughout the convention.

Romney was born into wealth and privilege as the son of millionaire Mormon businessman George Romney, who served alternately as Michigan governor, US housing secretary and chairman of American Motors.

George Romney tried and failed in his bid to become US president, becoming a top contender for the 1968 Republican nomination before losing out to Richard Nixon.

Mitt, who was elbowed out for the 2008 nomination by Senator John McCain, has now outdone his father as he gets his shot at the White House.

During his 2003 to 2007 governorship of Massachusetts, Romney built a reputation as a moderate deal maker inspiring an iron-clad, albeit Democrat-dominated, alliance that gave birth to the nation’s first universal healthcare program.

He has subsequently distanced himself from his crowning gubernatorial achievement as the program served as a model for the nationwide plan created by Obama in 2010, which most Republicans despise.

This fits seamlessly into the narrative perpetuated by White House attack ads, that Romney is the king of flip-floppers, someone who will do or say anything just to get elected.

Initially “pro-choice,” Romney switched to become “pro-life” after being elected governor of Massachusetts, declaring that the debate over stem cell research had convinced him of the “sanctity of life.”

Romney lies neck-and-neck with Obama in national polls 10 weeks out from a November election that should be the challenger’s for the taking, given the sour economy and stubbornly high unemployment.



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