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Mitt Romney, the insecure frontrunner

Mitt Romney finds himself in a peculiarly confounding situation: he has to defend his business successes in a party that swears by market capitalism.

world Updated: Jan 16, 2012 00:18 IST
Yashwant Raj

Mitt Romney finds himself in a peculiarly confounding situation: he has to defend his business successes in a party that swears by market capitalism.

He has been called a "vulture capitalist", a corporate raider, a job destroyer and so on. And all for running a private equity firm that acquired and turned around failing companies.

Bain Capital, which Romney co-founded and led for five years, will cut jobs, among other steps, to save their acquisitions.

And that is being used by Romney's critics.

The Harvard business school graduate, who was simultaneously enrolled at the law school, must have never imagined he would some day have to defend himself on Bain.

Romney prides himself on his stint in the private sector, something, which he says, sets him apart from the rest of the presidential hopefuls. He nearly became one himself, saved by an unsuccessful senate run - easily thrashed by Ted Kennedy - and an indifferent stint as Massachusetts governor (he didn't seek re-election).

The former Massachusetts governor - son of former Michigan governor George W Romney - was born a few months before India gained independence. Named Willard Mitt, Romney grew up around money.

He has constantly fought to look more common but never succeeded. Dumping business suits for open-neck shirt and jeans is part of the struggle.

The other is to use wife Ann Romney, who is more spontaneous, looks like anyone's wife or mother, is less severely attired (prefers floral prints) and connects easily. The two have five children, all sons.

Romney's other problem is his faith. He is a Mormon, a sect of Christianity called cult by hardliners. There are two of them in the race now, the other is Jon Huntsman.

But Romney's toughest challenge will not be his Bain Capital stint. In fact, he might be happier defending this than his record as a moderate conservative. The health plan he launched in Massachusetts was uncomfortably similar to Obama's plan.

The charge against Romney is that he changes his stand constantly, to suit the situation or who is listening. And he has a tough time defending it.

For these reasons, Romney remains an insecure frontrunner. His popularity among Republican voters is stuck in the early 30s. A large majority of the party doesn't like him.

A search for not Romney candidate is still on, despite his historic wins in Iowa and New Hampshire. But that might finally end in South Carolina, the next primary, if he wins there too.