Setting aside whether or not you agree with his ideology or view of the world, it would be hard for anyone to argue that Mitt Romney doesn’t have a long list of exceptional personal attributes that we’d all like to see in our president. He has great personal discipline and a lifelong history of working hard and earning success, and he is a trusted business partner, a good family man and an honorable, dedicated husband.
Unfortunately, what he does lack is an ability to artfully deviate from expressing his true beliefs when required — essential in politics, as exemplified by none other than former President Bill Clinton. Simply put, Romney is a terrible liar. And his inability to convincingly propagate certain necessary fibs to secure conservative consent rears its ugly head, to his peril, nearly every day on the campaign trail.
Let’s face it: Romney is not the “severe conservative” he tries to convince an extreme minority faction of the Republican Party that he is. He knows it, his staff knows it, the conservative talking heads know it, and most of the electorate knows it. What Romney also knows is that in today’s Republican world, it is extremely difficult for a moderate to secure the nomination, particularly after Sen. John McCain’s disastrous 2008 run, regardless of personal attributes and overall qualifications.
Running in the Republican presidential primary is somewhat akin to pledging a fraternity in college. In the beginning, you endure outlandish hazing to secure coveted access to a club that allows you to preen for pre-screened eager coeds in a mutually sanctioned setting. In Romney’s case, the hazing is being forced to tell untruths and half-truths in a vain attempt to validate his conservative bona fides in hopes of mollifying the far right and eventually winning the Republican nomination.
But lying doesn’t come naturally or comfortably for Romney. When your only overindulgence in life is perfection, lying is worn like Donald Trump hair on a windy day.
Bob Kerrey, the former Nebraska senator, once remarked of Clinton, “He’s an unusually good liar.” What was most noteworthy about this statement was not observance of the obvious, but Kerrey’s enormous envy of Clinton’s otherworldly ability with this compulsory political attribute. Clinton could sell Bibles to an infidel. Thankfully, Romney wagging his finger and disavowing impropriety with an intern is absolutely unimaginable.
Romney’s problem is really that he is the anti-contortionist. Cirque du Soleil won’t be calling if he doesn’t get the nomination. When forced to contort, he’s a pretzel without salt, a gymnast without a pommel horse.
Contrary to the established code of most politicians, Romney’s sanctuary is the truth. When forced from honesty, he self-mutilates. Fortunately, he didn’t have anything sharp in his hand when he recently spoke at the conference of conservatives.
Regrettably, Romney’s dilemma is also damaging to the country. Extremes on both sides of the aisle have hijacked the nominating process, not to mention the governing. Meritorious near-center prospective candidates are oft discouraged to run given the denigrating and denuding gauntlet that cannibals in their own parties construct.
Like all things in life, both good and bad, the Republican primary will soon end. And for those who are pining for a November eviction on Pennsylvania Avenue, rest assured, if Romney is the nominee, he will get to put his yoga mat in the closet after the Republican convention. For committed Romney supporters, this can happen none too soon.
Chapin is CEO of USAOPOLY, partner of Zephyr Partners and chairman of Health Savings Associates.