Romney's Career-Politician Problem

Earlier this year, when Texas Governor Rick Perry was the threat du jour to Mitt Romney’s status as front-runner, the former Massachusetts governor unveiled a new attack against Perry and everyone else in the GOP presidential field—he wasn’t a career politician. “I have spent most of my life outside of politics, dealing with real problems in the real economy,” Romney declared while in Texas this summer. “Career politicians got us into this mess, and they simply don’t know how to get us out.”

The problem, of course, is that absence from politics was not for lack of trying. Over the last 20 years, Romney has run for office four times, including his current run for president—a 1994 bid for Senate in Massachusetts, his 2002 bid for governor, and his 2008 bid for the Republican presidential nomination. In addition, he served as president of the Republican Governors Association from 2005 to 2007. Insofar that Romney isn’t a career politician, it’s because he has spent so much time losing. Despite this obvious fact, Romney has run with the message anyway, and his Republican competitors haven’t done much to challenge it.

But that was when Romney looked like a sure thing. Now that that’s changed, Republicans are challenging Romney on this description of his personal history. To wit, here’s Newt Gingrich:

On Monday, Gingrich told the press, “I don’t know if you ought to count running for Senator in 1984, then running for Governor, then running for President for 6 years, I don’t know if that makes him a career politician or not. I’ll let you decide.”

Romney’s sputtering rebuttal—“I ran for office but didn’t win, that doesn’t mean I spent my time in Washington because I didn’t win”—is a sure sign that this attack resonates. After all, the public is rarely enthuisastic about unsuccessful career politicians.

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