Yesterday, as I was thinking about the Republican contest to go up against President Obama next year, I really got my head stuck around how the campaign has played out so far — and how much I don’t like it. For months it’s been portrayed — admittedly accurately — as “Mitt Romney vs. Whoever Is The Anti-Romney Of The Month.” Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Donald Trump, Rick Perry, now Herman Cain. And each time, the anti-Romney has been treated the same way: their number rise, their profile gets higher, and they close in (or even pass) Romney’s poll numbers — and then the media turns on them and does all they can to destroy their candidacy. (Admittedly, the candidate usually helps out at this point.)
I was thinking that this was simply a sign of Romney’s quality as a candidate, that he can easily withstand the focus that has brought these others down low. But then I realized — Romney hasn’t really withstood the scrutiny and relentless focus like his rivals have. The scrutiny isn’t focused on “the leading Republicans,” it’s on “the leading Republicans who aren’t Mitt Romney.” This has led me to my theory that there is a script — perhaps not written down, but everyone’s playing their roles — that shows Romney pulling the tortoise against a slate of hares, slowly and steadily plodding along, his poll numbers never wavering much, as his rivals one by one run ahead, then burn out and fall by the wayside.
And I don’t like it.
Now, I happen to have a bit of respect and liking for Mitt Romney. He’s probably the most personally squeaky-clean candidate we’ve seen since… oh, Jimmy Carter. (Which makes me question the value of that trait.) I defy anyone to imagine Mitt Romney involved in a sex scandal. And he’s far better qualified to be president than Obama.
But I don’t think he’s “owed” the nomination. I don’t like the script we’re being presented. And I don’t like how he’s getting such a pass from the scrutiny and attacks his rivals are getting.
To be blunt, I want to see Mitt Romney get roughed up a bit. I want to see him get a metaphorical black eye and bloody nose and split lip. I want to see how he handles the kinds of relentless attacks that have torn down his would-be rivals.
I want to see how Mitt Romney handles serious adversity. I want to see how he holds up under that kind of pressure. And most importantly, I don’t want to see what happens when the Democratic/Media alliance goes after a Republican nominee who got there by getting the Barack Obama treatment from the press. We’ve spent about three years with a president who was coronated early and protected from the kind of attacks that will be brought against Obama’s opponent.
In that light, two thoughts give me hope. The first is that if it’s Herman Cain, he’s currently undergoing just those kinds of attacks. And if he’s going up against Obama, that will mean that he’s withstood them, and the attackers have used up their most potent weapons. The other is that if it’s Mitt Romney, they will go after him over his Mormonism — and that would be a wonderfully self-destructive line of attack. Not only would it expose the anti-religious bigotry they possess, but it would re-open the whole issue of Obama’s own religious history and his relationship with Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
But in the meantime… stop coming across as so goddamned smug, Mitt. Your position as the presumptive nominee is not a reward for your merits; it’s because you are seen as the best player for the role of “the guy who goes down gracefully in defeat before Barack Obama.” You may think you can rewrite that script, but a lot of us have our doubts.