By John Barron
A short month ago things were looking up for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
At the age most American men are expected to retire to their recliners and Winnebagos, the 65 year old was a reasonable bet to become America’s next commander-in-chief.
In mid-September, former Massachusetts governor Romney had delighted the fiscal conservatives and Tea Partiers within Republican ranks by naming Representative Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate.
The measured, calculating businessman had made a bold, even brave, choice.
Not, it seemed, "bold and brave" in a Sir Humphrey or McCain-picking-Sarah-Palin kind of way. More a deft management shakeup to reassure institutional investors (i.e. the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson, and Karl Rove) and sway shareholders (i.e. the voters).
Crowds swelled at Romney-Ryan rallies, conservative talkers on AM radio and Fox News were giddy as the polls narrowed to within less than one per cent nationally.
"We might just win this thing after all!" seemed to be the collective sense among Republicans.
But then came a lacklustre nominating convention in Tampa, with a scene-stealing display of improvised curmudgeonry from a geriatric cowboy actor, and it’s been pretty much downhill ever since.
If the RNC had all the thrills of a Certified Practicing Accountants conference, a week later the Democrats staged the political equivalent of Aida — even if the star performer sounded a little flat to some.
Not even another set of insipid jobs numbers for August could prevent the President from a significant "convention bounce" of around three per cent in national polls.
And just as that bounce came down there was a double-whammy inflicted by two very different Internet videos.
First the offensive anti-Islam video that incited protests in more than twenty countries, including Australia, and cloaked a terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that claimed four American lives, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Romney showed a tin ear by seeking to politicise the attacks too soon, as he rushed to paint Obama as a weak apologist.
Then of course this week came the “47 per cent video”.
Depending on your viewpoint, the hidden camera footage shot in the home of a Florida financier either showed mega-rich Romney telling country club chums who’d ponied up $50,000 a seat that almost half the electorate are welfare-addicted-moochers, or he was simply stating political realities; that his campaign is targeting independent voters, not Obama’s base.
There are 47 per cent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 per cent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it ... These are people who pay no income tax, 47 per cent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect.
His choice of words like "dependent," "victims," and "entitled" certainly jarred with many. Romney himself described the language as "inelegant" in his second hastily convened put-out-the-fire press conference in a week.
The pressure on the Romney campaign was begining to show. Campaign staff started talking to the media about what, or who, was the problem at their Boston headquarters. (Never a good sign.)
Conservative columnists piled on. Bill Kristol at The Weekly Standard said Romney’s remarks were "arrogant". Peggy Noonan at The Wall Street Journal wrote that the Romney campaign was a "rolling calamity" in need of an urgent intervention, and over at The New York Times, David Brooks was likening Romney to the bumbling millionaire Thurston Howell III from Gilligan’s Island.
Speaking on Iowa public radio, Ann Romney seemed exasperated when she told her husband’s critics: "Stop it! This is hard. You wanna try it? Get in the ring."
Hours later her campaign plane filled with smoke and made an emergency landing in Colorado. Nobody was hurt, but the metaphor was as obvious as it was unfortunate.
At week’s end the polls make for generally discouraging reading, with many showing President Obama pulling ahead nationally and in crucial swing states.
In about a month-and-a-half, Mitt Romney’s five year campaign for the presidency will come to an end, when he will either be president-elect of the United States or, like so many other 65 year olds, wondering what to do next now his working life is over.
Maybe he’ll buy a Winnebago and go and see the real America.
24 September 2012