President Barack Obama may have made several accomplishments in his first term, but he is entering the general election with a boost rooted more in the flaws of his competitors than the strength of his record. If this week’s media blitz is any indication — particularly the well-received appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon— he’ll be relying heavily on that, as well as the American people’s lingering affinity for him, to win the race in November. His Republican opposition likely has one message for their candidate: step up your game.
Mitt Romney’s sales pitch for the presidency has thus far been nothing more than a relentless attack on President Obama — and his GOP brethren are worried that it’s doing the assumed Republican presidential nominee more harm than good. As Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert explained to the New York Times, “Mitt Romney has to come up with a plan and policy and principles that people can rally around. It can’t just be negativity.” Another Republican governor, Rick Synder of Michigan, reiterated, “You want to have a situation where people have a reason to vote for you, not a campaign based on why not to vote for somebody else.”
WATCH REV. AL SHARPTON’S COVERAGE OF OBAMA ON FALLON:
The entire report is focused on the party’s concern that Romney isn’t projecting a positive enough vision for the country under his direction to convince voters to not give the sitting commander-in-chief another four years to see his own through. While they all tip toe around the obvious, I’ll state it plainer: There’s no way a politician with unfavorable ratings as high Mitt Romney’s can successfully win an election against someone as personally well-liked as President Obama by burying him on the basis of character. As hard as this may be to believe on the surface, such a scenario has been an anomaly for Republican presidential contenders over the years.
Despite maintaining the sort of repressive economic and social positions that only make the wealthy and religious smile, in recent decades the Grand Old Party has somehow managed to produce several presidential candidates perceived to be more personable by the public than their Democratic counterparts. There have been exceptions, say Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush, who had the unfortunate task of running against the charismatic Bill Clinton.
Overall though, Republicans have fielded more dynamic personalities in the general election. Ronald Reagan was able to use his skills as an actor to out-charm President Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. Likewise, President George W. Bush managed to score political points for being the candidate “you’d most likely want to have a beer with” — defeating the purportedly stiff Al Gore and aristocratic John Kerry.
Unfortunately for the assumptive Republican nominee for president, he finds himself in a different position than his predecessors.
Most polls have Obama leading Romney on likability by a wide margin, so if there’s any politician to benefit from mudslinging, it won’t be Willard. To wit, last summer the Politico reported that “Barack Obama’s aides and advisers are preparing to center the president’s re-election campaign on a ferocious personal assault on Mitt Romney’s character and business background.’’ They know Mitt Romney can’t out sing, out joke, or best the president in anything remotely related to personality.
On the other hand, as GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak points out to The Hill, ”…if you asked me whether I would rather be trailing on the economy or trailing on likability — well, it’s not even a close choice,” he said before adding, “And that’s where Romney is right now.”
Indeed, not many people like Mitt Romney, but even less like the idea of ending up destitute and entertaining new careers (like stripping, true story) under a stalled economy. Thus Mitt might not be able to project the stiff, snooty, and pedantic labels on President Obama that’s become a Republican trademark, but he could manage to win anyway if found ways to be more substantive in a less antagonistic manner. People can just turn to the Internet to see Obama sing Al Green, opine on Kanye West and Jay-Z, or come off as a cross between Barry White and Bryant Gumbel on NBC late night programming.
However, considering he’s proven himself to be as skillful a campaigner as he is at being honest (especially when it comes to dissecting his opponents), will Romney catch the helpful hint his own party is trying to send him in time? He’s not my candidate, but he’d be a fool not to heed their warning.
Follow Michael Arceneaux on Twitter at