TAMPA, Fla. -- Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have one big problem that must have Barack Obama walking on air: They’re running against themselves.
How do you win an election when you are trying to distance yourself from ... yourself?
Between Ryan’s convention speech, in which he denounced Obama policies and maneuvers that closely resemble some of his own, to Romney’s relentless humility, the Republican ticket consists of two men trying hard to be anything but who they are.
It is a bafflement.
Ryan has been called out on some of his statements that were not-quite-true, or at least not complete. These were simple, factual misrepresentations that could be easily checked -- and were -- or that were well-known to those who know a little about recent history.
In one instance, Ryan criticized Obama for ignoring the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles commission. What Ryan didn’t mention is that he served on the commission and that he voted against its proposals.
There’s nothing wrong with either of those facts except their omission. His criticisms would have carried more weight had he mentioned them and elaborated. What’s wrong with saying, “I served on the commission and while I had problems with it and voted against it , it was the right approach. We just didn’t go far enough and the president simply looked the other way.”
Or words to that effect. Instead, Ryan ignored his role in the process, essentially deleting his participation and his past. Whom does this serve? Certainly not the Romney/Ryan ticket, which risks being perceived as less than straightforward. This is crucial given a recent Gallup poll that found Obama leading Romney (48 percent to 36 percent) on the question of who is more trustworthy.
In another example, Ryan criticized Obama’s plan to cut $700 billion from the growth of Medicare. Ryan’s own plan also calls for $700 billion in cuts, though with different details. Why not acknowledge this? Everyone knows it -- unless Ryan believes that his audience isn’t really up to speed -- so why not set the record straight?
Why not say, “Look, I want to cut $700 billion, too, but there are ways to do this without hurting people. Here’s how?” Again, it’s as though he wants no one to remember “that guy.” Now he’s this guy, the one who wants to protect Medicare and who didn’t participate in the commission.
Finally, Ryan mentioned the downgrading of American credit and blamed Obama. You can blame Obama for a lot of things, but the credit degradation was owing to a lack of confidence in the American political system.
While Republicans love Ryan and his “Let’s get this done” attitude, Romney and Ryan need more than internal support. They need the folks who voted for Obama last time and who feel betrayed. They need independents, specifically. But how can independents be coaxed to vote for a guy who runs away from his own record?
This is a Romney sin as well. He’s no longer that governor who supported abortion choice and gay rights, which can be justified as a function of evolving views. But more to the point, Romney seems unwilling to share his biography beyond chronological bullet points. His personal record is platinum, yet he runs from it.
Romney’s reticence is perhaps owing to his reluctance to discuss his faith, which largely informs his deeds. After all, he had to work hard to gain the support and faith of evangelicals and others who view Mormonism with skepticism. Why open that door?
Why? Because it is Who You Are.
Romney is a Mormon, you may have heard. He is a man of immaculate faith. He is a wildly successful businessman whose company outsourced jobs, as most did, not to rob Americans but to provide profits to investors and to keep prices down for American consumers who, despite their moaning, still want the cheap jeans.
How many Americans know that Romney gave away his inheritance? Or that he has worked several jobs, including the governorship of Massachusetts, for no pay? Or that he has given to and made millions for charities? These are all on his personal résumé, but he doesn’t want you to know. Because?
It would be bragging and men like Romney don’t brag. But he should, just a little. And Ryan should edit his own résumé a little less. There’s no dishonor in giving or accepting credit (or blame) where due, but you can’t win voter confidence if you lack it in your own record.
You can run, but you can’t run from yourself.