A new e-book from Glenn Thrush and the folks at Politico contains this interesting tidbit concerning Barack Obama’s feelings about Mitt Romney:
“One factor made the 2012 grind bearable and at times even fun for Obama: he began campaign preparations feeling neutral about Romney, but like the former governor’s GOP opponents in 2008 and 2012, he quickly developed a genuine disdain for the main. That scorn stoked Obama’s competitive fire, got his head in the game, which came as a relief to some Obama aides who had seen his interest flag when he didn’t feel motivated to crush the opposition. Obama, a person close to him told me, didn’t even feel this strongly about conservative, combative House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the Hill Republican he disliked the most. At least Cantor stood for something, he’d say.
“When he talked about Romney, aides picked up a level of anger he never had for Clinton or McCain, even after Sarah Palin was picked as his running mate. ‘There was a baseline of respect for John McCain. The president always thought he was an honorable man and a war hero,’ said a longtime Obama adviser. ‘That doesn’t hold true for Romney. He was no goddamned war hero.’”
A brief digression: as John McCain taught America, you can be a war hero and also be a jerk; the latter doesn’t subtract from the former. But McCain is the one politician who is always defined by the most admirable thing he ever did, even though it happened four decades ago, while most politicians are defined by the worst thing they ever did. In any case, assuming Thrush’s reporting is accurate, it’s interesting to see the famously cool and detached Barack Obama actually displaying emotions.
It’s a reminder that politicians, even presidents, are human beings. If someone was going around the country every day telling anyone who would listen that you sucked at your job, and not only that, you also don’t really understand or believe in America, you’d have to be the Dalai Lama not to decide that that person is, down to his very core, an asshole.
Of course, Mitt Romney is a special case. As Kevin Drum says, “something about the presidency seems to have brought out the worst in him. His ambition is so naked, his beliefs so malleable, his pandering so relentless, and his scruples so obviously expendable, that everyone who spars with him comes away feeling like they need to take a shower.” The fact that Romney hasn’t given us much reason to like him means there’s nothing to counteract the negative reaction we have to the awful person he is as a politician. Different candidates are able to do this in different ways. With Barack Obama it was his inspiring personal story, with McCain it was the war record, with George W. Bush it was his easy-going, friendly manner. The result is that even when we see them engaging in some campaign hardball, we’re able to tell ourselves, “OK, I didn’t like that much, but I realize that he’s basically a good guy.”
Romney doesn’t have an inspiring story (feel your heart flutter at “Son of wealth and privilege grows up to obtain even more wealth and privilege”), and his manner is, shall we say, strained. There have been occasional attempts to use his wife Ann and sons, the interchangeable Tagg-Craig-Turf-Gorp or whatever their names are, to humanize Romney, but it never seems to get very far. So when he makes up things about his opponent or refuses to tell us how much money he has or what he does with it, there’s nothing on the other side of the character scale to counteract the impression voters are left with. The person he is as a candidate is all anyone can see. And that person is pretty repellent. So it’s no surprise that his favorability ratings are extremely low and probably going nowhere but down.