Well, is he?
Think about it: Mitt Romney and John F. Kerry are two Boston blue-blood multimillionaires, spending summers in their island estates and winters in their mountain mansions; both are recidivist flip-floppers with long records of often indefensible 180s; and each was going up against a supremely unpopular — the catch word is “beatable” — president.
Both are stiff, highly programmed and have problems connecting with voters.
Both failed to energize the electorate during the run-up to caucuses and primaries (Mr. Kerry ran behind Howard Dean for months, and Mr. Romney has trailed just about everyone, including a guy pitching something called the “9-9-9 plan”). And both were “next in line.”
Sure, there are dozens of differences, but there are also a slew of similarities stretching back to their youths. Both were prep school prodigies then — Mr. Kerry was Yale, Mr. Romney, Harvard. Both suffered embarrassing political drubbings early in their careers, with Mr. Romney, flopping from independent to Republican and running hard away from President Reagan in his loss to Ted Kennedy, and Mr. Kerry, a carpetbagger, getting his hat handed to him by a guy named Paul W. Cronin.
Both then took the state route to power, Mr. Kerry running for lieutenant governor, Mr. Romney, two decades years later, for governor (and this time it was “Willard” who had the residency issues). Both ran as political outsiders, a proven path to victory, and a strategy each would employ in their presidential campaigns. (Incidentally, Mr. Kerry’s boss was another giant Democratic loser, Michael Dukakis.)
But unlike Mr. Kerry, who had only ceremonial duties, Mr. Romney ran the state. There, he raised gas taxes, but he also cut spending by $1.6 billion. Mr. Kerry worked on “acid rain.” (Another difference, just FYI: Mr. Romney earned his millions; Mr. Kerry married a ketchup heiress.)
For his part, Mr. Romney is well aware of the coming comparisons. Just this month, while handing out sub sandwiches aboard his campaign press bus in New Hampshire, he joked:
“Roast beef. Any roast beefs? Going once. Veggie. There we go. Ham. Ham?
“What are you guys eating back here? What do you guys want? Filet mignon with some brie, is that it back here? What’s going on. Some arugula? That’s the John Kerry bus back there, I’m sorry.”
But there are spectacular differences, too, between the two Brahmin blue-bloods. First and foremost, Mr. Kerry picked Bob Shrum as his campaign manager. The former aide for Edmund Muskie and George McGovern sports a disastrous record: He handled Dick Gephardt’s losing 1988 presidential campaign, then worked for Bob Kerrey, who lost the nomination to Bill Clinton. Need we mention his work for Al Gore? ‘Nuff said. (Although he did work for Mr. Kennedy in his 1994 victory over Mr. Romney.)
Mr. Romney, on the other hand, has surrounded himself with a top-notch team of battle-tested political veterans. Behind the scenes is Matt Rhoades, former communications director for the Massachusetts governor’s first presidential run in 2008 who also served as research director for George W. Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004.
Even further behind the scenes is Eric Fehrnstrom, the mastermind behind Scott P. Brown’s 2010 ascension to the Senate seat Mr. Kennedy held for nearly 47 years. Sure, Mr. Brown will lose in a landslide in 2012, but still, that’s pretty amazing to win that seat. PR vet Gail Gitcho runs the communication shop — an A-team pro. Plus, many members of the 2008 squad are back, and it’s already clear they aren’t making the mistakes they made last time.
More different, though, are the incumbents. Mr. Bush was despised by the mainstream media, of course, but Americans weren’t convinced. They looked at the world, fraught with problems, and in Mr. Kerry, they just didn’t see a man able to handle them.
Mr. Obama is dramatically different from Mr. Bush: He isn’t waging a war half a world away, he is battling the U.S. economy, and losing badly. (This, Americans do get.) Mr. Obama looks awfully small — hardly a Clinton or Reagan, who each won re-election handily — and is far more like Jimmy Carter (right down to the whole America-is-letting-us-all-down schtick). Hardcore Democrats can hardly stand him. Independents who put him in office are bailing in droves. That energized youth? Yeah, not so much this time.
And most different is this: Mr. Kerry ran a very negative campaign, blitzing the airwaves with all that was wrong with Mr. Bush and, especially, America.
You know who doesn’t like that? Americans
So ponder this, Mr. Romney’s closing ad in Iowa:
“When generations of immigrants looked up and saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time, one thing they knew beyond any doubt … is they were coming to a place where anything was possible; that in America, their children would have a better life.
“I believe in that America. The spirit of enterprise, innovation, pioneering and can-do propelled our standard of living and economy past that of any other nation on Earth.
“And in the campaign to come, the American ideals of economic freedom and opportunity need a clear and unapologetic defense. And I intend to make it because I have lived it.
“We stand for freedom and opportunity and hope. The principles that made this nation a great and powerful leader of the world have not lost their meaning — they never will.
“I’m Mitt Romney, I believe in America, and I’m running for President of the United States.”
Not exactly John Kerry, is it?
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.