US Presidential Election 2012

Romney's candidacy improved as months went on

Romney unable to make Americans love him, but became a plausible candidate and potential president near campaign's end

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2012, 7:20am

In July, a woman in West Virginia asked Republican house leader, John Boehner: "Can you make me love Mitt Romney?"

Boehner said: "No. Listen, we're just politicians. I wasn't elected to play God. The American people probably aren't going to fall in love with Mitt Romney."

But that didn't stop Romney's handlers trying. They used his wife, Ann, to soften him, invoked his Mormon religion to humanise him and even called on Clint Eastwood to vouch for him, but in the end Boehner was right. The American people were never going to fall in love with Romney.

Indeed, he could barely get his own party to fall in love with him. Even his running mate, Paul Ryan, waited until the primaries were nearly over and his nomination was inevitable, to offer an underwhelming endorsement: "I think we're entering a phase where it could become counterproductive if this drags on much longer, so that's why I think we have to coalesce as conservatives around Mitt Romney."

Luckily for Romney Americans didn't have to love him. In the six years he's been running for the president he's been reintroduced to the public several times to no avail.

But when it came down to it, the public needed just 90 minutes during the first televised debate to change its mind.

It is telling that while almost everyone concedes that Romney won the night, almost no one can remember a single thing he said.

His victory was, in no small part, a reflection of Barack Obama's hapless, hopeless defeat. But it was more than that. He may not have been loveable, but he was plausible - as a candidate, a human being and a potential president.

From then on, as his poll numbers rose and his confidence grew, the whiff of possible victory attached itself to him. That was the smell that permeated the amphitheatre in suburban Denver on Saturday night as several thousand people gathered in high spirits to hear him.

Unlike most Republican rallies earlier this year, including the party's convention, they were not going through the motions. They wanted to be there. Spontaneous chants of "three more days" rang out among a crowd. Every time Obama's name was mentioned a man in front shouted to general approval: "He's a bum."

While many have clearly warmed to Romney, most there seemed more motivated by their fervent opposition to Obama.

In the pre-mortems of Romney's candidacy, when it was widely assumed that he was going to lose, the accusation was always that his personality and his campaign were his main liabilities.

There were indeed issues with both. Newt Gingrich branded him a "vulture capitalist"for his work at Bain Capital. Back in 2008, his opponent in the Republican primaries, Mike Huckabee, said: "[Romney] looks like the guy who fires you, not the guy who hires you."

Democrats spent the summer framing him as a heartless corporate raider, while Romney made US$10,000 bets during debates, casually referred to his wife's couple of Cadillacs, and was caught on video disparaging 47 per cent of the country in a speech to wealthy donors.

But a far bigger problem for Romney was the party he sought to represent.

To run for the Republican nomination he had to run away from his record as governor and a senatorial candidate.

His previous support for abortion rights, gun control and healthcare reform and his bipartisan record all had to be denied or distorted.

Even Romney insisted he had his limits. "It's very easy to excite the base with incendiary comments ... I'm not willing to light my hair on fire to try and get support. I am who I am."

The first debate marked the beginning of his revival, because it signalled the moment he started running away from the stances he had taken in the primaries and back towards his record.

He morphed back into the moderate who could reach across the aisle and get things done.

His Republican base did not seem to mind that, as long as it seemed a winning strategy. When they picked him, Republicans on the party's right traded ideological authenticity for viability. They wanted someone who could win.