How Mitt Romney’s Luck Ran Out

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Jim Young / Reuters

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney pauses during his address to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles on Sept. 17, 2012

For a good long while, Mitt Romney was the luckiest man in politics. He joined the 2012 race as the default Republican front runner after more-formidable challengers chose not to run. His declared rivals were at turns ineffectual (Tim Pawlenty), ridiculous (Herman Cain) or self-destructive (Newt Gingrich) — granting Romney a fairly easy, if occasionally fraught, path to the nomination. An economic recovery that might have made challenging Barack Obama pointless never materialized. For a time, you might say, all the trees seemed to be the right height. As Romney wrapped up his primary campaign, the conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, skeptical of Romney’s innate abilities, urged the would-be nominee to “pray for yet more luck, the quality Napoleon famously valued in his generals above all others.”

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More recently, however, Romney’s luck has turned. His campaign has been star-crossed, veering from one minor disaster to another. The latest example is the emergence of Romney’s covertly recorded observation at a Florida fundraiser that the 47% of Americans who pay no federal income taxes will never vote for him because they “believe they are victims” entitled to endless government support and, by the way, will never “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” Not to generalize or anything. This, just days after Romney’s rash statement late on the night of Sept. 11 suggesting that the Obama Administration sympathized with the violent mobs in Cairo and Benghazi. (This Pew poll tells the story of how that went over.)

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Before that, there was a convention to forget: Clint Eastwood vs. an empty chair. Romney’s failure to mention Afghanistan. And the way the Democrats’ big speakers (Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama) outshone the GOP’s ho-hums (Marco Rubio) and flops (Chris Christie).

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Before that was a summer of woe: Democrats murdered Romney in the free media wars that establish the campaign’s narrative. They skillfully dribbled factoids about Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital on liberal blogs, chum that successfully drew the big-media sharks. Senate majority leader Harry Reid mounted an insidiously effective innuendo campaign in which he repeated unproven allegations that Romney hadn’t paid any income taxes for a decade. Someone even alerted the Washington Post to Romney’s boyhood bullying.

And let’s not forget some other ignoble moments. Like Romney’s putatively statesmanlike overseas trip that became a media circus. Or the stunning Supreme Court ruling that upheld Obamacare, undermining an important Romney line of attack (and throwing his campaign into confusion about how to respond). Or the general-election opening  “Etch A Sketch” moment.

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And now the leaked video, with its tone of contempt for nearly half of the country, whose creator remains unknown.

Conservatives will complain, not entirely without merit, that many of these episodes were overblown, whipped into a froth by a “gotcha” press corps that finds Romney unlovable or even ridiculous. It’s also true that Obama’s team has stepped in it more than once. (“You didn’t build that”; the over-reaching super-PAC ad effectively practically accusing Romney of manslaughter.)

But the fact is that Romney’s luck ran out long ago. And his unluckiness has revealed his limitations as a presidential candidate (and those of his campaign team). Romney’s fortunes may turn again. But for now, more than a few Republicans are wondering whether his nomination was their party’s rotten luck.

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