Even before the first Republican debates got underway, I have consistently stated in TV and print interviews that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney would be the strongest candidate against President Obama.
I (and other Democrats I talk to) have been rooting for Perry, Cain or – most of all – Michele Bachmann to get the nomination.
But only Romney seemed to represent a real threat to president in the 2012 general election. (Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is the only other Republican candidate whom Democrats believe has any chance in the general election against Obama, but the Republican base is too bent on ideological purity on the far right to allow him to be nominated.)
Full disclosure: I am strongly supporting the president for reelection. I think Barack Obama is mostly right on the issues and has mostly done a good job, especially in light of the fact that on his first day in office, he faced the deepest economic hole of any president since FDR.
I think in the final analysis, most voters accept the truth that President Obama did his best with a tough deck of cards. And they recognize – given polling results – that congressional Republicans seem determined to do nothing that might help Mr. Obama’s reelection chances. Their standing in public opinion polls is way below that of Mr. Obama and for good reason in my book.
However, until recently, I believed that if the economic, unemployment, and right-track/wrong-track poll numbers are as bleak on Election Day 2012 as they are today, Romney stood a good chance of defeating Obama.
But in recent weeks I have changed my mind.
I am now convinced that should he win his party's nomination Romney will lose to Barack Obama.
I'm convinced because in the last several weeks, indeed the last several days, Mr. Romney has increased his already serious problem of being a flip-flopper and coming across as inauthentic, and he has also showed serious political tone-deafness as a non-compassionate conservative.
Several recent examples come to mind. There was Romney’s insensitive statement in Las Vegas last week — in a state with the highest foreclosure rate in the nation — that he wanted to allow home foreclosures to “hit the bottom” to help the housing industry recover. That might be rational economic market theory — but it’s not an example of showing any empathy for the folks just blocks away from his press conference who are losing their homes to banks.
Next came the attack on Texas Gov. Rick Perry for supporting the children of illegal residents in Texas paying in-state tuition rates while attending Texas public colleges. Romney had apparently forgotten that in Massachusetts, as governor, he had supported a health care law that guaranteed illegal residents of the Bay State access to tax-subsidized health care.
Then there was Romney's trip to Ohio two days ago. In the Buckeye State he flip-flopped on his previous support for Gov. John Kasich’s law barring collective bargaining for public employee workers. Recent polls in the state show a 25-point advantage for a referendum to repeal the law. So now Romney claimed that he had no position on the referendum. Can there be any doubt that Mr. Romney flipped or flopped as a result of the heavy turn in the polls against Governor Kasich’s position?
But wait, there's more... Just a few days ago, Romney immediately criticized President Obama for his announcement that all U.S. military forces would be withdrawn from Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011.
But Mr. Romney knew very well that the main reason for Obama's rather sudden announcement was the Iraqi government’s intransigence over many months of continuing the grant of legal immunity for U.S. soldiers risking their lives, an immunity that the U.S. government has always insisted on, regardless of which administration occupied the White House.
What else could the president do? Would Mr. Romney have left U.S. GIs vulnerable to arrest and prosecution for war crimes by some local thug Iraqi prosecutor? Yet Romney, by innuendo, suggested that Obama’s decision might have been politically motivated. In my view, that’s just plain nasty.
Unless Romney (once again) flips and flops on these and other positions and is allowed to get away with it (which I don’t think he can), I believe this combination of flip-flops, insensitivity and even nastiness is politically fatal for him or any other candidate.
The most recent polls bear out my own instincts that Romney will likely lose to Obama in 2012 -- even with no improvement in the economy.
Given our current high unemployment, low approval ratings and high wrong-track/right-track numbers, it appears that things could hardly get any worse for Obama. Yet every recent poll shows Obama versus Romney as either in a dead heat (Rasmussen and Democracy Corps) or Obama ahead (+4 by AP, +3 by Time magazine) of Romney.
A very recent poll in the crucial state of Ohio showed President Obama with a significant lead over Romney. If Romney isn’t beating Obama in Ohio -- given all of the president’s difficulties with the poor economy -- then how can he possibly win next November, especially if things improve in any way?
For this reason, I was confident enough to challenge Sean Hannity on Tuesday to take me up on a $1,000 bet that President Obama would be reelected in 2012 — with the loser paying the money to the winner’s favorite charity.
Hannity immediately agreed.
So here's my message to my charity choice — the Washington, D.C., organization that cares for the homeless, So Others Might Eat: Expect a $1,000 check from Sean Hannity come November 2012.
Lanny Davis is the principal in the Washington D.C. law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, which specializes in strategic crisis management. He is a Fox News contributor. Davis served as President Clinton’s Special Counsel in 1996-98 and as a member of President Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in 2006-07. He is the author of “Scandal: How ‘Gotcha’ Politics Is Destroying America” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). He can be found on Facebook and Twitter (@LannyDavis). His column appears Thursdays on FoxNews.com, The Hill, the Daily Caller, Newsmax.com, the Huffington Post and the Jakarta Globe.
Lanny Davis is a regular weekly columnist for The Hill. In 1996-98, Davis served as special counsel to President Bill Clinton. He attended Yale Law School with Hillary Clinton in 1969-70 and has remained friends with her ever since. He is the author of the book, "Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping With Crises in Business, Politics, and Life," (Simon & Schuster March 2013). Follow him on Twitter at @LannyDavis.