This took me awhile, but after Mitt Romney's recent cookie flap in Pittsburgh, I've finally come to an understanding about the former Massachusetts governor. Mitt Romney is an asshole. Now, I don't say that as a criticism, but rather as a description of the man. Romney is the kinda guy who's friends tell other people, "Oh, that's just Mitt being Mitt." And in general, Romney doesn't mean to be an asshole, he just is. To his credit, I think Romney knows that he's an asshole, and takes steps to keep his assholedness in check. That's why he becomes the RomneyBot, and does weird things like comment on the height of trees.
By the way, I don't necessarily think that the asshole thing is a disqualifier for becoming President of the United States (being a rank opportunist, though, is). In fact, some of my favorite politicians are complete assholes. The fact that Romney is aware of the problem indicates a level of personal awareness well above Bush.
What does this mean for the campaign? Well, somewhere between a little and a lot. The Obama campaign is all about building up Obama while also letting Obama connect with voters - he's genuinely a nice guy, loves his family, and a huge sports fan (huuge). So, in many ways, the Obama campaign in the past has suffered by waiting on the President to make his case.
Romney's campaign won't have that problem. If I worked for Romney, I'd keep him as far away from voters as possible. At best, I'm getting the RomneyBot, and at worst, Romney's pure asshole comes out. (his Seamus story, where he strapped the dog to the roof of his car on a family trip, is a great example of asshole Romney - he actually thought it was a good story to put in his book). Along with his troubles with the conservative base, being unable to build a cult of personality means that Romney will never have a Sister Souljah moment. Every crazy ass thing that the Republican base wants, he has to deliver because he has no credibility with the base.
Now, if I worked for Obama, here's how I would use this to my advantage - I would run ads highlighting every ridiculous thing Romney said to pander to the right wing in this year's primary. And I mean everything. Paint Romney as being "severely" conservative - so "severely" conservative that he is literally poison to moderate voters. Again, because his base is not secure, Romney will not be able to challenge those attacks. If he does, Romney faces a backlash from his base.
Romney, by contrast, has to focus everything he has on Obama and on the economy. Now, here's where things get tricky - the base believes that Obama was never fully "vetted" and that he is a secret Kenyan, Muslim, anti-colonial, Hitler-type person, who wants to enslave us all. Oh, and that he's also stupid. Of course, all of that is complete nonsense - not only was Obama vetted (through one of the hardest primaries in recent memory), but faced constant attacks throughout the 2008 campaign. A lot of the attacks never stuck because outside of the base, no one believed the attacks. Romney knows this, and wants to focus his attacks on the economy. If he does, I expect to see a SuperPac stepping up to sling pure mud. Oh, and the Veep choice will be a bedrock conservative (Mark Rubio).
If, God forbid, Romney does get elected, he will still have to protect his right flank, and so he's going to govern as a bedrock conservative. If he shows any moderation, it will be in his second term (if he gets one).