In campaign for the Presidency in 2008, I spoke with many evangelical Christians and conservative Republican voters in Central PA. Having grown up in a Congressional district where the Republican candidate often won 90+% of the vote, it was not surprising that then-Senator Barack Obama was not popular. In fact, many voters were downright scared. Most Republicans were scared of his progressive message and his potential. A few brought up Obama's meteoric rise to fame, his (then) somewhat confusing background and his ability to excite large groups of people. A few of those individuals even mentioned similarities that his rise and personality could have with certain passages from Revelation in the Bible about the Antichrist. Many interpretations of Revelation say the Antichrist will be presented to the world as a public figure who comes in the name of peace and unites the peoples of the world in harmony (and possibly currency) before revealing evil intentions.
All that to say - Obama's charisma, connection with people and reliance on government brought out fears of what is essentially the fundamental "bad guy" of the New Testament. In 2012, no one is calling Obama the Antichrist. In fact, no one is even calling him a socialist much anymore. I'm not sure Obama changed all that much. Instead, voters have gotten to know him better and honestly, he hasn't been as unifying and harmonizing as his '08 campaign implied.
But when watching the Republican National Convention this week, my wife and I heard a commentator say that Rick Santorum was speaking to let evangelicals and Catholics know that it was safe to vote for Mitt Romney. Safe? Safe?!?!?! My reaction was to laugh. Mitt Romney is one of the safest (read, most harmless) candidates in a long time. What the commentator really meant was that social conservatives should not worry about Romney's religion. Apparently among the coded messages at the RNC was that social conservatives should accept/welcome Mormons into the fold.
I immediately thought back to 2008. If Obama was potentially the Antichrist for believing too strongly in government and showing the potential to harmonize many people in America and abroad, why aren't these same people saying similar things about Mitt Romney? Obama's background seems more public (and accessible) than the money and power controlling the Mormon church. I don't know much about the internal politics of the Mormon church, so I could be off-base, but it seems to me at least, like the public leadership of the Mormon church plays it closer to the vest, so to speak, than those leading evangelical and Catholic institutions.
Yet, we heard from Rick Santorum that it's a non-issue.
In reality, this blog post and Mitt's problem has nothing to do with religion. No one is saying anything about Mitt Romney being the Antichrist because he's not interesting or charismatic enough to fit the mold even if you stretch the interpretations. No rise to power - he's been running for President as long as Suri Cruise has been alive (maybe longer). He's not coming in peace - granted, he's not coming in the name of war either but the campaign is not a positive one. He's not harmonizing - Romney's campaign has been just the opposite actually.
It would almost be better for Mitt Romney if there were whispers of his being the Antichrist because it would mean that people can see his charisma, potential and power.
I'd like to think these whispers do not exist because people are becoming more familiar with the 24/7 cable news cycle and we no longer jump off the handle with wild comparisons anytime a bright, young Senator runs for President. But we all know that's not true. We love hyperbole and we love drama.
So, it must be that Mitt is just not that interesting.
What I cannot figure out is whether this is good or bad. On one hand, it's been a turbulent 10 years and perhaps uninteresting is what this country needs for 4 years. On the other hand, uninteresting does not inspire people, does not impose political will and does not win votes. And yet, with his choice of Paul Ryan as VP and his essentially having the stage for 4 nights this week, Romney seems to be gaining momentum.
Ultimately I think Romney still has not overcome his safe approach. He's unwilling to take chances...he's unwilling to take a stand. Mitt Romney would benefit by becoming more personal and more dangerous. In order to beat the incumbent, a presidential candidate has to overcome major disadvantages particularly that the opponent is already the President of the United States. It takes a special candidate and some help from the economy/world events. Reagan and Clinton has both of these in common. Both candidates possessed incredible personal charisma and both entered the race during times of economic struggle. Romney has the economic struggle piece well in hand but, until now, has not connected with voters.
I didn't see all of Thursday's speech yet. The parts I have seen left a little to be desired. It was a good speech. It wasn't a great speech. Romney will have every opportunity to build a narrative over the next two months that brings in voters and energizes the American people. Maybe he's capable of this. Maybe his campaign is, as a good friend of mine would say, "a slow burn."
But I don't see it. I don't see this election getting any closer than it is right now. Romney chose Ryan. Romney had the stage. And he did alright. Unfortunately for him, ok isn't good enough in this political climate if you're attempting to unseat an incumbent.
Can "a slow burn" win my vote? Absolutely. But in this case, I still haven't seen Mitt's Presidential Moment. I haven't seen him say anything particularly interesting. Safe, steady and lower taxes. I get it but he hasn't won my vote.
The campaign begins in full force on Tuesday. The convention is over. The summer is over. Kids are going back to school. People are starting to pay attention. Starting Tuesday Mitt needs to parlay this momentum into votes.
No one is going to mistake Mitt Romney for the Antichrist but he could make things a lot more interesting by making himself a little more interesting.