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January 9th, 2012 5:54 pm
How the Republican Candidates Fall Short
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The ever-perceptive Michael Barone is out with a new piece today chronicling — in his trademark even-handed style — the weaknesses of the various Republican presidential candidates (Barone makes clear up front that this isn’t an attack piece, just an attempt to balance their professed strengths with the demerits they try to obscure). My favorite is his judgment of Jon Huntsman, who hasn’t been able to break through with conservative voters despite the fact that he had a serviceable record as Governor of Utah:

Jon Huntsman, even more dependent on a breakout in New Hampshire than Santorum, has a different weakness. His disdainful dismissal of other Republicans, even more than his service as Barack Obama’s ambassador to China, has antagonized many conservatives.

That’s it in a nutshell. Attitudes matter just as much as — if not more than — positions. You never get a second chance to make a first impression and Huntsman’s decision to curry favor with the media by running down the conservative base in the early days of his campaign can’t be ameliorated by the virtues of his positions on taxes, education, or abortion in Salt Lake City.

Where I think Barone gives us a genuinely new insight is in his read of Mitt Romney:

His weakness is that he never experienced the cultural revolution of the 1960s and so sounds corny and insincere. So far, that hasn’t been disabling.

Here, I think Barone dramatically oversimplifies. The sense of insincerity has a lot to do with Romney’s ideological elasticity, which has seen him seemingly take every side of every issue at some point in his career. But the cultural point is still well-taken. Barack Obama is the ultimate postmodern president — cool, detached, ironic in the fashion of those who spend too much time on college campuses, and utterly solipsistic. It’s a long way from there to Romney, who seems like the buttoned up father figure on a black and white sitcom. But while the former Massachusetts Governor is far from the ideal corrective to the current occupant of the White House, there’s no doubt that a president who seems pried from “Leave it to Beaver” is preferable to one whose entire political career seems like an extended audition for “The Real World”

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