Romney’s negatives

The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll contained a fascinating data point: “[Mitt] Romney’s overall favorable/unfavorable score remains a net negative — a trait no other modern presumptive GOP presidential nominee (whether Bob Dole, George W. Bush or John McCain) has shared.”

To say that’s a problem for Romney is an understatement. As much as 2012 wants to resemble 2004, Democratic nominee John Kerry never suffered underwater favorability ratings. At this point eight years ago, Kerry actually led President George W. Bush, 46.5 percent to 43.8, in the RealClearPolitics composite. President Obama might not have put this race out of reach, but popular distaste for Romney is clearly overriding disappointment in Obama’s presidential tenure.

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And that’s not likely to change if voters can’t bring themselves to like Mitt Romney. Yet how can he sell himself as a person if he refuses to discuss anything relevant in his background? 

He can’t talk about his tenure as Massachusetts governor because, well, there’s that whole RomneyCare thing. He’s supposed to hate that now.

He can’t talk about his tenure at Bain because he’s suddenly realized that vulture capitalism doesn’t win votes. People don’t like people who like to fire people. That’s why the Romney campaign has expended so much energy trying to convince people that he left his company before he actually left it, while hiding his tax returns from the American people.

He won’t talk about his religion, afraid he’ll scare off people who care about that sort of thing (i.e., evangelical conservatives). 

He can’t talk about his privileged childhood. He has no uplifting and inspiring story about overcoming obstacles to success. In fact, when reporters asked for the names of childhood friends who could shed some light on the younger Romney, those very (supposed) friends sold him out, detailing his cruel bullying. Not exactly a crowd-pleaser.

So perhaps we’re supposed to elect him president because he once successfully ran an Olympics? An Olympics that he didn’t build by himself, which was bankrolled in no small part by a $1.5 billion federal infusion/bailout? Given that Romney’s campaign message is now “government never did squat to help you,” he can’t even hang his hat on Salt Lake 2002 anymore.

And even if you could have a beer with him, you wouldn’t. As we’ve seen this year, there isn’t a person he won’t mock or insult to his or her face. You might have the wrong kind of poncho at a NASCAR race, or your cookies might not pass muster. It wouldn’t even matter even if you were the prime minister of a country with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Romney would just insult your entire nation’s commitment to the Olympics after calling it “second-tier.”

Now that Romney-dislike has gone international (one British official called him “Apparently devoid of charm, warmth, humor or sincerity”), what’s left for Romney? His relentlessly negative campaigning has gotten him nowhere, so he’s turned to dishonest campaigning — splicing up footage of Obama speeches to create controversies out of nothing.

But if the strategy is to get average voters to hate Obama as much as the conservative base does, good luck with that. Attitudes about the president — both good and bad — are hardened, and undecided voters’ biggest question is whether they have a viable alternative. 

Romney is unwilling, unable or just too unlikable to be that alternative.

Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com).