Although he stands a better chance of beating Barack Obama than his Republican clown car compatriots, Mitt Romney is in a key respect the perfect challenger for the president because he represents all that is wrong -- and then some -- about the distribution of wealth in America at a time when that has belatedly become a pungent social issue.
Romney, who is worth $250 million give or take a few million, has been squirrely about being a card-carrying member of the 1 percent of the 1 percent from the outset of the 2012 campaign although it was obvious that his challengers for the GOP nomination and Obama himself if he won the nomination would exploit that.
There are a couple of reasons for this:
* Romney, like most extraordinarily wealthy people, is predisposed to being hedgy regarding details of his fortune. Yes, even if it is something relatively minor as the car elevator he has installed at one of his mansions.
* Romney still doesn't get it regarding how mere mortals view his wealth and his defensiveness about it. He seems pathologically unable to use that wealth as an asset -- hey, I worked hard and got rich in the finest American tradition, by golly -- and not something to continually run from.
Now comes a report that one pundit calls catnip for Obama -- his exploitation of a loophole in federal ethics laws that enables him to conceal the size and nature of his financial holdings in Bain Capital, which he founded and ran for 15 years.
While we have a pretty good idea about what Bain is doing with its money -- which includes buying a division of a Chinese company that is the largest supplier for the Beijing government's Big Brother surveillance system to watch over university campuses, mosques and movie theaters from centralized command posts -- we don't know how or where his money is invested. And more importantly, whether his policies as president would affect his investments.
Even the lawyer who advises Republican candidates on financial disclosure issues thinks that federal ethics officials are giving Romney a free ride:
"(This exemption) turns the whole purpose of the ethics statute on its ear," says Cleta Mitchell. "I don't know what legal authority exists for the federal ethics office to allow Mitt Romney not to disclose these assets. The statute intends for presidential candidates to publicly disclose underlying assets."
It should be noted that the same officials gave the same exemption in 2004 to Democrat John Kerry in 2004, who had assets in a Bain account held by his wife, Teresa. The Bush re-election campaign, of course, portrayed Kerry as a rich wind-surfer who was out of touch with average Americans.MAZEL TOV, MR. PRESIDENTRepublicans predicted that this was going to be the year that Jewish voters would abandon Obama and Democrats in general, but a funny thing happened on the way to Passover.
A poll of Jewish voters by the independent Public Religion Research Institute found that 62 percent favor Obama and only 30 percent prefer a Republican. The biggest reason? Israel is not the biggest issue for most American Jews. Economic injustice, the growing gap between the Romneys and everyone else, is a far more pressing concern.JUST GO BAKE COOKIES, LADIESIn another gift to Obama, Republicans have worked assiduously this election year to alienate women voters, perhaps the key constituency if the party is to retake the White House.
And while Romney is now tacking furiously away from his endorsement of the party's misogyny platform, it may be too late. Polls show him trailing Obama badly among women voters -- by 20 percent in a new Pew poll and 18 percent in a new Gallup poll.
This is a neat trick for a party that had its best overall national result in 18 years among women voters in the 2010 midterm election, but the reality is that the GOP's problems with these voters have persisted so long that they can now be called historic, while the strategies the party has tried to use to close the gender gap, including hiring corporate marketers and communication specialists to craft women voter-friendly language, have flopped.
The reason is as obvious as the trunk on an elephant's face: In their heart of hearts, many influential Republican believe that women are second-class citizens and should be treated as such.There are three factors that you can be sure won't be in play when it comes to Romney picking a vice presidential running mate:
LET THE VEEPSTAKES BEGIN
* No unvetted candidate a la Sarah Palin has a chance of making Romney's A List.
* The A List will consist of people with deeply conservative bona fides to help counterbalance the reality that Romney is a moderate in conservative's clothing.
* Unlike Romney, the eventual pick will have a pulse.Photograph by Yana Paskova for The New York Times