Mitt Romney picked a rotten time to go wobbly.
With Herman Cain facing a crisis over sexual-harassment allegations and the rest of the GOP field stuck in reverse, Romney has a golden opportunity to build a commanding lead in the presidential primaries.
Instead, he has reverted to his old, tired self: hesitant, inconsistent, unclear and pandering to the latest fad.
The flip-flopper tag he earned four years ago is taking on new resonance.
Romney’s dithering, which includes ducking interviews, is wasting a crucial chance. The wild swings in the stock market and Europe’s begging China for a bailout throw a big dose of doubt into hopes the economy is rebounding. The new uncertainty and stubbornly high unemployment are tailor-made for Romney’s big advantage -- his successful background in both private business and government.
Yet even as President Obama flails about for a coherent message that doesn’t involve blaming everybody else for everything that’s wrong, Romney isn’t making progress. He can’t break 25 percent in the GOP polls and, more important, seems to have lost the steady confidence that made him the front-runner.
His recent wavering on cap-and-trade, his slobbering sympathy for the Occupy Wall Street vagabonds, and double-talk about an Ohio referendum on union powers all reinforce the narrative that he lacks convictions. In the zinger of the campaign, rival Jon Huntsman called him a “perfectly lubricated weather vane.” Ouch.
Obama’s team has noticed. It sees Romney as the most formidable challenger, so it is jumping on his mistakes to define him in ways that do some lasting damage.
Two Obama aides said Romney has “no core” and one added: “If he thought . . . it was good to say the sky was green and the grass was blue to win an election, he’d say it.”
The developments could be more than a bump in the road. Romney was always going to have a problem with conservative voters who don’t fully trust him even when he adopts their positions because of his occasionally liberal past.
But he usually polls best against Obama one-on-one because he is attractive to independent voters. That’s his ace, and he’s squandering it by looking meek.
Obama pulled 52 percent of independents in 2008 and they helped him win several swing states. These days, he gets about 35 percent, and a near majority say they will not back him again.
Beyond his moderate stances on social issues, Romney’s icy demeanor is also a plus. Obama is “hot” in the sense that he excites emotion and his policies are largely out of the mainstream.
While many conservatives are drawn to “hot” Republicans like Cain and Rick Perry for similar reasons, fighting fire with fire in 2012 would be a mistake. Obama would win that contest.
Romney’s ice is a better antidote to Obama’s fire. Romney could be the sober grown-up that most Americans are waiting for.
But not if he is afraid to lead. And that is how his recent fumbles make him appear.
Indeed, Obama, for all his flaws, is not afraid to lead. He did big things when he had a Democratic Congress -- the stimulus, ObamaCare and the Dodd-Frank financial regulations.
His problem, of course, is that those big things were deeply flawed or flat-out wrong for an economy that hasn’t really recovered from the Great Recession.
Yet certainty, even class-warfare simplicity, can be a plus in an uncertain time.
Besides, a wobbly Romney against a misguided, but determined Obama would violate one of the oldest maxims of politics: You can’t beat Somebody with Nobody.
These days, Mitt Romney is acting like Nobody.
Michael Goodwin is a Fox News contributor and New York Post columnist. To continue reading his column on other topics, including JetBlue, click here.