Published for www.washingtonpost.com, April 2, 2012
Recent endorsements by Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan have solidified Mitt Romney’s status as the presumptive Republican nominee. They have also highlighted Romney’s limits as a candidate.
Bush is the conservative policy innovator. Rubio is a symbol of youth and outreach. Ryan is the budgetary idea leader. Romney does not benefit from comparison in any of these categories.
In a campaign of wild mood swings, sudden polling gyrations and embarrassing infatuations, Romney has been steady, organized, dogged and successful. He has all but secured the nomination of a party more conservative than his record and angrier than his style — a considerable political achievement.
But by now it is clear that Romney is not a political natural — as Barack Obama was and Rubio may be. Politics is Romney’s second language, and he often speaks it haltingly, in an awkward accent. His ploys are too obvious, his humor forced, his instincts unreliable.
This matters because Romney is engaged in an uphill communications battle — a series of challenges that require effective language and strategy.
First, he needs to express sympathy for the concerns of regular people, without actually being a regular person. Romney’s deficiencies in this area have been evident for months, but his stumbles continue. He jokes about job layoffs by his father. He moves forward with the renovation of his California dream home.