Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts just six years ago. Today he’s so unpopular here he’s barely bothering to campaign in the state. There are reasons for that—and they could spell doom for his presidential campaign.
Now hearty cheers ring out. “Oh my goodness, wow, I always comment, there’s a border security problem here, all right? Thanks for letting me across the border this morning.”
The lame joke passes mostly unnoticed—there are polite chuckles from the crowd—but it’s still odd to watch a major presidential candidate poke his home state. Barack Obama embraces his Chicago ties, George W. Bush is so Texan he clears brush for fun, and Bill Clinton was the Man from Hope. But Romney has, at best, an awkward relationship with our commonwealth. According to a MassInc poll from the summer, 52 percent of Massachusetts residents currently view him unfavorably, while just 35 percent see him in a positive light. By contrast, fellow Republican Scott Brown has the reverse numbers: 48 percent favorable, 30 percent unfavorable. Romney is expected to lose Massachusetts by 15 to 20 points in November.
When he does talk about his time here as governor, it’s usually to pump up his bipartisan bona fides or brag about how he balanced the budget without raising taxes. (Strictly speaking, this is true, though helpfully devoid of context: All Massachusetts governors are constitutionally required to balance the budget, and while Romney technically may not have raised taxes, he did hike fees on a variety of government services.) What he does not discuss are the hugely successful bills he passed, like universal healthcare and an assault-weapons ban. Obviously, he also does not mention just how unpopular he was when he left office.
So please, America, pay attention. There’s been too little talk about Romney’s time as governor of Massachusetts, and now that you’re deciding whether to make him our next president, it’s worth understanding just how and why he alienated the voters who know him best. Because the big problems that have been plaguing Romney on the campaign trail—that he’s personally inaccessible, that he’s had trouble unifying his party, that he’s become known as a flip-flopper—all have their roots in Massachusetts.