A slew of unanswered Romney questions

The conventional wisdom at this point about November’s vote seems to be that while at congressional level, Republican money could prove difficult for Democrats to navigate, in the presidential run the Obama camp should be well enough equipped to do the effective counter-punching necessary to prevail. Even had the respective resources in the Obama-Romney battle not been as they stand, it would be interesting to see whether the baggage Mitt Romney brings to this race could have withstood voters’ scrutiny by the time we got to casting ballots.

One would think that given the exhausting primary/debate calendar Romney endured in securing the nomination, all that reasonably should have been laid bare about him character-wise, record-wise, etc would by now be part of the campaign narrative. It probably has to do with the “presumptive nominee” handle of which he was the early beneficiary or to which he helped himself, but Romney today has the nomination sewed up, still with a whole lot about him glaringly to be assailed. Chances are the tactic of stonewalling or employing fancy footwork to which he resorted during the primary process won’t cut it in the real faceoff.

Once he vanquished his GOP competition, Romney was being touted as a conservative favorite. This, of course, wasn’t how the dueling went down during that protracted series of primary contests that Republican chieftains aren’t likely to reprise. Romney, back then, tried every which way to demonstrate how “severely conservative” he was, trying too hard in a truly shameless parody. One of his bigger challenges, in attempting to do this bit of awkward straddling, was distancing himself from the healthcare overhaul he had advocated and introduced in Massachusetts as governor. All things being equal, it would be highly improbable for Romney to survive an entire general election campaign without being dragged on the carpet big time over his vehement condemnation of the Obama Affordable Healthcare legislation in light of a Massachusetts plan which shares such features with the federal law as the individual mandate and the setting up of exchanges offering affordable health insurance.

Romney’s gutless attempts to disavow what he piloted in Massachusetts, all in the interest of pandering to the GOP’s controlling conservative base, is as indicting a Romney character flaw as it gets. Some surveys in Massachusetts last year showed support among residents for the state’s healthcare law to be in the range of a two-thirds plurality. Those numbers apparently don’t mean squat to Romney who, if he had his druthers, would forgo any credit coming to him for the Massachusetts initiative in favor of the big score of right-wing backing for a presidential run. It speaks volumes about candidate Romney.

Those integrity questions were all over columnist Paul Krugman’s piece in the New York Times a few days ago when he took aim on Romney’s failure so far to tell it straight about his finances. Krugman compared this dodging tactic with the exemplary forthrightness of Romney’s father, George, the onetime president of American Motors and Michigan governor who, when he made a bid for the Republican nomination in 1968, Krugman noted, released 12 years of income tax returns. By contrast today’s Romney, after repeated demands during the primary campaign, reluctantly released one year’s return and estimated earnings and taxes for a second year. Meanwhile, speculation is rife about funds Romney reportedly has parked away in Swiss accounts and in investments in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere. You would think Romney knows that any obstinate “none of your business” posture about all of this would play large in sealing his doom. Said Krugman: “This refusal to come clean suggests that he and his advisers believe that voters would be less likely to support him if they knew the truth about his investments.”

There’s been some scuttlebutt about heavy hitters on the right being displeased with the Romney team and clamoring for personnel changes to be made. If true, one shouldn’t be surprised if, given the usual Republican bluster, the discontent centered on things like a pattern of messaging that didn’t go enough for the jugular and blithely ignored Romney’s obligation to bare all about those finances of his. There is, too, the element of an unlimited cash flow which is understandably fueling an air of invincibility permeating the GOP ranks.

Romney has said he plans to keep the focus on the state of the economy, seeing this as his ticket to the White House. An economy far from fully recovered from the devastation the president inherited is hardly the ideal environment for any incumbent’s return to office. Added to which, even quick-fix measures such as Obama has been advancing are guaranteed dead on arrival in a Republican controlled House notwithstanding, seen through non-partisan eyes, they legitimately have merit. The obsession on the other side with bringing a halt to what’s seen as the freak accident of history that produced a President Obama four years ago is that strong. Somehow, though, Romney as axis point for this deviltry could wind up compromising the grand design. Romney, it turns out, is not only every bit the make-believe, conveniently repackaged “conservative” primary opponents declared him to be. He is also proving to be, integrity-wise, one flawed entity whose true moorings are really the stuff of illusion.