Mitt Romney: This Year’s Michael Dukakis
If, as seems possible, Mitt Romney is not elected U.S. president on Nov. 6, he will not be the first presidential candidate to run on the issue of competence and then lose because he ran an incompetent campaign. He will not even be the first governor of Massachusetts to do so.
In 1988, Michael Dukakis, who was ahead in the polls just after the Democratic convention, declared in his acceptance speech: “This election isn’t about ideology. It’s about competence.” Then he proceeded to blow a large lead and lose to George Bush the Elder, who turned out to be a tougher old bird than anyone suspected.
It would be hard to think of two politicians more different than Dukakis and Romney. Dukakis is a short, unassuming (for a pol) ethnic American. Romney is a tall, self-confident dynastic WASP (or at least WASM), one of whose campaign flubs was to claim his father was an immigrant from Mexico. (George Romney was born in Mexico because his family had fled there to practice polygamy unmolested by big government and burdensome regulations.)
Dukakis said the issue was not ideology but competence because he was trying to avoid getting pinned with the label “liberal.” In Romney’s case, the issue is framed less as a question of his opponent’s alleged incompetence than it is his own superb omnicompetence. As Nicholas Lemann explains in the current New Yorker, Romney’s self-assurance has its roots in his Mormon upbringing and his experience as a management consultant at Bain and Co., where he worked before going off to found Bain Capital and get really rich.