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Learning to Like Mitt

Mitt Romney’s greatest appeal to his supporters at the outset of his campaign, to be perfectly honest, was that he was not Barack Obama. That remains Romney’s biggest selling point, to continue with the honesty shtick, but lately we’ve noticed that his supporters seem to like him because of who he is almost as much as because of who he is not.

There are polling data to bolster this impression, but mostly it has been formed by listening to alternative media and conversations with a variety of the regular folks we routinely encounter. Our own growing regard for Romney is part of it, too, as we were as skeptical as anyone at the start of his presidential quest.

We rabid right-wing sorts were initially put off largely because of that health care bill Romney championed while governor of Massachusetts, a government-heavy that bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the hated Obamacare bill, but also by the fact that he had once stooped so low as to serve as the governor of Massachusetts. Such failings would ordinarily disqualify a person from the Republican presidential nomination, but as it became clear over the course of an embarrassing primary campaign that the more consistently conservative alternatives were unlikely to survive the inevitable attack ads and media caricatures he was reluctantly chosen as standard-bearer. Not a single Republican of our acquaintance thought he was worse than the incumbent, not by a long shot, but neither was there any enthusiasm for the ticket.

Gradually, though, Romney seems to have won over his party’s base. The ivy-covered conservative media based on the east coast were on board all along, but eventually even the proudly disreputable voices of talk radio began to stop nit-picking and start praising their candidate. The hugely influential Rush Limbaugh is now an unabashed fan, and Mark Levin, the unbearably dour talker who is usually even more scathing toward anyone not 99 and 44/100ths percent pure than he is toward the actual enemies, has also lately been laying off the criticism. Numerous chats with bona fide grassroots types have revealed a similar growing approval, with our most reluctant right-wing friends now expressing a genuine admiration for Romney.

The transformation began with Romney’s bold choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, a clear signal that he understood the severity of the nation’s fiscal problems and the need for politically risky solutions, but we sense that the candidate’s forthright defense of capitalism, the Constitution, and an old-fashioned Americanism has been even more important. Most conservatives have a keen sense of a candidate’s sincerity, and Romney’s background in business makes his paeans to the free market utterly believable in a way that Obama’s recent praise of capitalism do not.

In a rather neat trick, Romney seems to have solidified his conservative support while simultaneously winning over those incomprehensible moderate types who are often thought to be scared silly by conservatism. Because the change appears to have occurred since the first debate, which drew an unusually large audience, we’ll attribute this to the dangerously uninformed getting a first-hand look at Romney and noticing that he bears little resemblance to the demonic figure portrayed in the Obama campaign’s over-the-top negative advertising. They might have also noticed that he’s a strikingly intelligent, competent type, qualities that have as much appeal to middle-of-the-roaders as to conservatives, and that he’s been remarkably pleasant even as he endures the obvious efforts of the media to suggest otherwise.

Romney obviously hasn’t endeared himself to the president’s most stubbornly loyal supporters, of course, and instead has begun to provoke the same sort of red-hot hatred that was once reserved for the likes of George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan. That’s a good sign, too, though, because it suggests that Romney’s rising popularity has them scared.

— Bud Norman

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