Comparing today’s candidates to the coulda-beens of yesteryear is the astrology of political journalism, but sometimes the truth shows forth like a seminal stain on a blue dress. Of all the big-time politicos you can wrack your brain to recall, the one most like Willard “Mitt” Romney is, actually, the other Willie: William Jefferson Clinton.
Before you slam your laptop shut in disgust, consider: President Obama has beaten Hillary, shamed McCain, and consigned stiff bluebloods like Kerry, Gore, and George H.W. Bush to the scrapheap of political history. Instead of saving the Republican Party for people who remind you of George W. Bush, Rick Perry ensured they would never again be permitted to campaign outside Texas. All told, in both parties there has now been just one presidential contender since Reagan to get elected and leave on a high note: Bill Clinton. Post-Gipper, Bubba is the only available model of the kind of candidate that can appeal to today’s Americans more than Obama himself. Barack, of course, set out infamously to be the Democrats’ Reagan. The time has come to realize the Mittster is on course to be the GOP’s Clinton, minus the big Lewinsky.
The immediate objection is that Romney, least of any humanoid among us, can feel another person’s (or mammal’s) pain. The tribulations of Republican primary season, where a bleeding heart will get you curbstomped, have led many a normal person to embrace that judgment. But Romney’s mask is already beginning to slip. In the CNN debate on January 12th, he defended his otherwise absurd refusal to renounce ‘Romneycare’ by insisting it proves he’s the Republican who’s “having compassion for the uninsured.”
Never mind his latest gaffe—allowing his mouth to emit the words “I’m not concerned about the very poor.” A glance at the quote’s full context plainly shows he’s fighting Obama for the middle class. Oh, and triangulating. Remember triangulation? Clinton wasn’t very good at it either, until he made it the centerpiece of his second term.
For Romney, triangulation is impossible without Romneycare. It’s his proof that despite being a Republican he feels your pain. Prepare for a level of empathic emissions that would embarrass Dr. Phil. Mitt won’t bite his lower lip like Bill did. But he will use Romneycare to do what Clinton did—reassure America that it’s OK to dump an incumbent with a solid record of killing people who hate Americans.
Having fun yet? Prepare to smell the excitement when nominee Romney finds his very own Al Gore to share the ticket. Together with Bob McDonnell, the swing state Virginia’s shiny, happy governor, Romney will party like it’s 1992, when the southern male whiteness of Clinton/Gore was neutralized by a pH-balanced campaign about fresh faces and fresh starts. Relative to the likes of Gingrich and Paul, Romney’s not gray around the ears, he’s green behind them. For McDonnell’s part, just like Romney’s campaign backdrop, he is pristinely white and silently screams BELIEVE IN AMERICA.
The joy will stop, however, every time Romney must open his mouth—as he has on so many occasions already—to deliver yet another shape-shifting Clintonian apologia parsing his record and his meta-record. Nothing recalls Clinton’s verbal circumlocutions—half lecturing, half bullshitting, half pissed, half pleading—like Romney’s indefatigable, on-command deconstruction of outrageous claims such as Romney did things that have fixed meanings and Romney is one person in particular. Next to Romney’s ability to extemporaneously discuss himself, Newt’s seems like that of a desperate amateur.
Clinton was not always well-served by his capacity for spoken-word self-indulgence—he was booed for boring his own party’s convention in ’88. But it helped him make George H.W. Bush look—uh oh—too aloof and self-entitled even to earn the sympathy reserved for the arrogant. Sound familiar? On a bad night Romney speaks gibberish, but on a good night he is carefully honing his reflexes for a killer moment or two when he plays the Clinton to Obama’s Bush the Elder.
Diehard conservatives might be sickened by these comparisons, but tsunami waves of nausea and vertigo ought to be hitting Obama’s disheartened defenders, who know better than anyone how much worse you can do than a Clinton. Recent Gallup polling shows that Obama hasn’t yet moved the needle against Romney in the twelve key swing states where Mitt’s already up a point. Romney’s Clintonism works, and it’s only just begun.
But don’t let me be the one to convince you. Listen to the words of Slick Willie’s second inaugural:
Everyone who can work, will work, with today’s permanent under class part of tomorrow’s growing middle class. New miracles of medicine at last will reach not only those who can claim care now, but the children and hardworking families too long denied. We will stand mighty for peace and freedom, and maintain a strong defense against terror and destruction. Our children will sleep free from the threat of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. Ports and airports, farms and factories will thrive with trade and innovation and ideas. And the world’s greatest democracy will lead a whole world of democracies.
Or is that Slick Willard’s first inaugural?
James Poulos is a columnist at The Daily Caller. He is on Twitter at @jamespoulos.