The appeal of any presidential candidate, argued Richard Nixon’s speechwriter Raymond Price, is based on a “gut reaction, unarticulated, non-analytical, a product of the particular chemistry between the voter and the image of the candidate…. [It’s] not what’s there that counts, it’s what’s projected.”
Every time the Republican Party checks its gut about its presidential front-runner, Mitt Romney, it has a severe intestinal response. He is projected as the former venture capitalist and future CEO of America Inc.: the man who will use the know-how he developed turning companies around to turn the country around and get it back to work.
For a party that has been railing against the encroaching socialism imposed by the current administration, you would think at least this aspect of his biography would appeal. True, Romney may have taken the shuttle to Damascus and back on issues like abortion, healthcare and climate change. His lack of conviction and consistency on social issues might turn off social conservatives. But his business experience was supposed to be an asset, not a liability.
It turns out, however, that while the GOP base loves capitalism it is not so keen on capitalists—or at least not those of Romney’s ilk. His hold on the party has been precarious, in no small part because he perches on the fault line between the party’s corporate sponsors and its white, working-class base; between the capitalism that is extolled and the capitalism that is experienced. Like a meat-eater in an abattoir, when they are confronted with the process head-on, it makes them gag.
Romney’s problem in this regard is twofold. First, there is the way he made his money, as a venture capitalist. Unlike Herman Cain, who at least produced pizzas, Romney didn’t make anything. He bought companies, restructured them and then sold them. He was not a producer but a financier. Although it’s widely recognized that free market capitalism cannot operate without financiers, their parasitical nature holds little popular appeal.
“Darling, Daddy doesn’t build roads or hospitals and he doesn’t help build them,” says Judy McCoy in
, explaining her husband’s bond-trading job to their daughter. “But he does handle the bonds for the people who raise the money…. Just imagine that a bond is a slice of cake, and you didn’t bake that cake, but every time you hand somebody a slice of the cake a tiny little bit comes off, like a little crumb, and you can keep that.” As a venture capitalist, Romney bought cakes cheap, sliced them up, sold off the chunks for a profit and kept a huge slice for himself. Notwithstanding party affiliation, a substantial section of the GOP electorate identifies more with the baker than the slicer.