Tracey Barnett

Tracey Barnett is a Herald columnist

Tracey Barnett: Silence may well prove fatal for Romney

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Republican's recent show of a lack of integrity threatens to be his downfall, writes Tracey Barnett

This was my tipping point. This was the one moment that brought me from respect of Mitt Romney's political resilience [even strategically admiring] - to being delighted to strap his dog back on top of his station wagon to drive him into political oblivion.

The day after Hurricane Sandy struck, Romney faced the press pool at a non-campaign rally, one spontaneously transformed into a "relief event" to collect canned goods the Red Cross didn't want.

Reporters asked him if he still stood by a statement he made in June that implied he would disband America's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and hand it over to individual states. Frustrated, a reporter asked, "Governor, you've been asked 14 times, why are you refusing to answer the question?"

Romney moved past the press, reached for some water and didn't say one word. The man was as opaque as the waters covering New York's Battery.

There are only two possibilities here. Romney didn't answer because he wouldn't - or worse, he didn't know how. It would have been kinder to give Big Bird an algebra problem. Here's where the science of dishonesty gets ugly. Does he double-down and stick to his old statements at the very moment when half of the Eastern seaboard is still reeling? Or does he "walk back" his sentiments as they say in political-junk-speak and just lie?

Welcome to Bush's kindergarten storybook 9/11 moment. Here is your official introduction to what a Romney presidency would look like. The man who had so effectively come from behind in the home stretch of this presidential marathon with a last-minute sprint back to the political centre, just clammed up when confronted with his conservative Evil Twin from June.

The next morning, as the death toll rose and waters began to recede, Romney's campaign did try to "walk back" his old FEMA comments. Good luck with that. Mercifully, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, rebuffed Romney's offer to visit his state's damage, having praised Barack Obama's accessibility.

Romney has been - let's just say - a transformational candidate. To his credit, he has mounted an astounding campaign that will be studied for decades to come. The man who was perceived as a cartoon Mr Smithers Country Club Plutocrat just one month ago, morphed himself into the New Man. The moment that first debate was won, Romney commandeered Obama's own change mantra from 2008, all traces of irony gone. It was the battle of the Tanned versus the Tired.

Romney had done something incredibly smart. He learned from Senator John McCain's mistake of tacking hard right in the final stretch, just when McCain needed to romance the middle. Political consultant Karl Rove taught him well.

Romney has done the polar opposite. He campaigned for a year to woo his right wing base. But from the moment that first debate began, as Democrats watched with steam coming out of their ears, Romney ran headlong to the political middle, figuring he can govern where he wants later.

It was politically astute, strategic and best of all - it worked. Romney had gotten his own pooch within spitting distance of that ultimate doghouse in Bo Obamaland. There was only a tiny piece missing: That one detail voters looking for renewal from these last four years of economic slog had been willing to overlook: Integrity.

Repeat after me, an ugly act of God will not win Obama this presidency. Obama had this presidency in his hand before disaster struck. He has always had the numbers. If Big Bird can't do the math, Nate Silver, a respected aggregate pollster of the New York Times' 538 site has been for the last year. In every scenario, Obama's chance of winning has ranged from roughly 61-86 per cent, even during Romney's greatest surge.

Yes, the popular vote has got incredibly close, but this election is a winner-take-all contest, decided state by state. It is this tally that makes up Electoral College numberswhich have consistently put Obama within striking distance of a win.

In Romney I see a hugely able candidate, but I can't find the man who means what he says. This is Romney's quintessential flaw. Intellectually, I understand Romney's choice of temporarily shelving personal integrity from a strategic politician, but I can't stomach its utter absence in a president.

If Sandy must wreak any more havoc, push it Romney's way. He may have never won my vote, but he has lost my respect.

www.traceybarnett.co.nz or Twitter @TraceyBarnett

- NZ Herald

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