Illustration via the New Yorker.
The New Yorker's Louis Menand has written a long and fascinating review of a new Mitt Romney biography. Menand is very good on Romney's successful business career as a management consultant, and how it shaped his outlook on politics. Menand argues that Romney's gaffes - "corporations are people too", "I like to fire people" etc - however unfairly decontextualised, do express something true about the way he sees the world:
That way might be called Darwinian, except that in Romney’s universe the organisms that struggle to adapt, survive, and reproduce are not individuals. They’re firms. General Motors and Toyota are firms, of course. But Massachusetts and Texas are also firms. “When the state of Texas was an economic basket case, the partners in my private-equity firm decided to buy Texas businesses,” Romney writes in “No Apology.” “We knew that Texas had to come back someday.” China and the United States are firms, too, because “countries, like businesses, need strategies to survive and prosper. A nation’s strategy should be designed to propel it beyond its competitors and to increase the security and prosperity of its citizens.” The firm is the basic unit of Romneyan analysis, and it is the fate of firms to grow or die.
Menand closes by suggesting that Romney's prolonged primary struggle may actually do him good:
Today, Democrats are enjoying the spectacle of the well-financed, well-endorsed, sometimes preeningly self-confident Romney getting beat up in primary contests by the ideological equivalents of what prizefighters call tomato cans. But, as is often the case in politics, what doesn’t kill him will make him stronger. Those political palookas are performing the service of identifying the anti-Romney voters as fringe voters—people who have nutty ideas about government, or who are just angry at modern life.
If Romney can dodge and feint his way past all his strange opponents, and discreetly shed some of the culture-war rhetoric he is finding himself obliged to mouth (which may be a challenge), he might arrive in November looking like a plausible candidate of the center, which is the way all Presidential candidates aspire to look.
I think this is astute and a reminder that Romney will probably seem a more formidable candidate in September than he seems now. Especially because Obama's position, despite a recovering economy, is fragile. Recent polls have seen his approval ratings slip again after a recent surge. This seems to be caused by the rise in gasoline prices. To some extent this is inevitable and normal - the president's ratings are always tied to economic indicators - but it's also a sign that Obama has never really formed a bond with the American people. They find it difficult to put faith in him if things aren't going well; he has the narrowest of margins of good will. In November, Obama will be at the mercy of the economy.