Mitt Romney doesn’t have a book out or a Newsweek cover photo in bike shorts, but he’s plugging away to establish his 2012 presidential bona fides. Going after Obama’s campaign addiction, he writes:
A full year after being elected, Obama still does not have a strategy for Afghanistan. … What has he been doing for the past 12 months that took precedence over his responsibility for our soldiers? The answer is that he made 30 or more campaign trips for the Democratic Party and its candidates, including five events for defeated New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine alone. He repeatedly traveled around the country to keynote campaign-style town hall meetings that were carefully choreographed by his communications advisers. He appears to want to do what he knows best: campaign, rather than engage in what he was elected to do — lead and govern.
And he jabs the president for spending time in the Situation Room with “[David] Axelrod, the president’s campaign adman. Polls, politics and perspectives on what the TV networks may think have no place at the national security table. Communications staff should be informed of security decisions after they are made, not invited to be a party to them.” And he makes a pitch for his own executive skills (“During my career in business and government, and in running the Olympics, I made many instructive mistakes and learned the lessons that come with experience”), arguing that Obama has flunked his on-the-job training.
Well, that’s the preview of the 2012 race, which the not-yet-but-certain-to-declare Romney and other GOP challengers will make: Obama was a swell campaigner but lacked the gravitas and judgment to govern. After nearly a year of his rally-stuffed agenda, much huffing and puffing (“I won”), and hyper-partisanship, Obama does seem less presidential than when he started. During the campaign, at least, he was employing lofty rhetoric and eschewing vindictive labeling (back when there was no Blue America, no Red America, just the United States of America). Now he seems a smaller, less imposing figure, and frankly much like every other not-very-effective ultra-liberal pol.
That doesn’t mean he can’t accomplish anything between now and 2012, or that he can’t elevate his tone before facing the voters again. But if he ran now, would he command the same dreamy devotion and drive new flocks of voters to the polls? Unlikely. And once the magic is gone, the rhetoric is debased, and the left-wing agenda reveals itself and then unwinds, it’s hard to get the magic back.