Why Romney's wrong for the right's Rev. Wright fight

OPINION - Focusing on Rev. Jeremiah Wright is a political loser for Mitt Romney, who has presented himself to voters as a no-nonsense businessman...

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Ever since the McCain-Palin ticket got shellacked in 2008, some conservatives haven’t merely wanted to unseat President Barack Obama — in 2012, they want to annihilate him.

Which to some means playing up Obama’s ties with his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. As Crystal Wright of the Conservative Black Chick blog told Fox News’ Gretchen Carlson Friday, Romney shouldn’t pass up any chance to “remind the American people what kind of character” Obama embodied as a member of Wright’s congregation.

And according to a New York Times report Thursday, the Ending Spending Action Fund — a Super PAC funded by billionaire Joe Ricketts — recently considered a proposal to revive the Wright controversy as a strategy to rebut Obama’s image as a “metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln”, but abandoned it, as the Fund’s president Brian Baker said Friday, after concluding that “the world is full of bad ideas” and “this was one of them.”

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But even if they’d wanted to run with the Wright issue, they’ve got another problem: Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, doesn’t want to go there, and distanced himself from any potential ad campaign about Wright by telling reporters that “I want to make it very clear that I repudiate that effort.”

Translation: he’s actually trying to win this thing.

Focusing on Wright is a political loser for Romney, who has presented himself to voters as a no-nonsense businessman; the Wright controversy only distracts from that message, even if that attitude might not be enough for Romney to satisfy the anti-Obama caucus.

Like Sarah Palin, who wrote in Going Rogue that she’ll “forever question” Sen. John McCain’s decision to sidestep the Wright fight. Or Herman Cain, who told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren Thursday that “it wasn’t highlighted enough in 2008.” They speak for those who aren’t content just to vote against Obama on the basis of party affiliation, but who want to refashion him as anti-American — even racist — by tying him to Wright.

Which is still a pretty thin case, when you consider that Obama offered his widely hailed “A More Perfect Union” address in 2008 in response to Wright’s sermons and explain his own view of the American race-relations landscape.

But it’s the trade-off Republicans made when they made Romney their standard-bearer.

It’s not that he’s above cheap sloganeering — after all, his “Believe in America” tag line suggests that Obama is inherently unpatriotic. But Romney’s not a brawler, and if he wins in November, it’ll be on points, not by the knock-out that some partisans want to see. He’s not a showman or provocateur like Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum, who were more than willing to go out and slam Obama as “food-stamp president” and a “snob.”

Plus, he’s got no interest in a fighting war on religion, since attacking Obama’s former minister would make questions about Romney’s Mormon faith — particularly its ban on blacks in the priesthood until 1978 — fair game.

And Romney, who struggles to connect with black voters, isn’t helped by that debate.

When he was asked Thursday why he’d disclaimed attempts to make Wright an issue in the campaign after he’d just taken Obama to task for “listening to Rev. Wright” during a February appearance on Sean Hannity’s radio show, Romney replied that “I’m not familiar precisely with exactly what I said but I stand by what I said, whatever it was.”

It was classic Romney: an unintentionally comic non-answer that probably won’t hurt him in the long run, yet didn’t exactly inspire confidence in supporters. But in the short term, it underscored his disconnect with conservatives on Wright and other issues.

For right wing activists who want to wage a hard-edged campaign against President Barack Obama, Romney might be their candidate, but he’s not really their kind of guy.

David Swerdlick contributes to WNYC’s “It’s a Free Country” blog. Follow him on Twitter at @swerdlick