Longtime readers know that I reject the typical left-right political spectrum in favor of a trichotomy of political philosophies called “cosmopolitanism”, “nationalism”, and “materialism”.
At present in the United States, we have a choice between a cosmopolitan, Obama, and a materialist, Romney. The curious part is that Romney must try to persuade the nationalists that he is one of them, despite considerable evidence to the contrary. He has not done a very good job of it so far, although he is bound to get some of the nationalist vote simply for not being a cosmopolitan.
You may ask: “why isn’t there a nationalist candidate?” Well, there was. Rick Santorum was his name, but he failed to get the Republican nomination. So now, in another renewal of the delicate alliance that is the Republican party, Romney has to try to get the people who didn’t want him and wanted Santorum to vote for him.
Romney has been fairly socially liberal himself in the past, and he now has to try to assure nationalists that this won’t happen again, whether by blaming circumstance, claiming his hand was forced, or saying he’s changed his mind and/or heart on social issues like gay marriage, abortion, contraception and gun control. Some politicians might be able to get away with this sort of thing. Not Romney, though, because he is not charismatic and hence people do not innately trust him.
Candidates like Reagan, and to a lesser extent, George W. Bush had the ability to use their charm to cover for the contradictions in nationalist and materialist philosophies, and thus hold the voting coalition together through their personal popularity. Paul Graham wrote in his influential essay on charisma in Presidential elections:
The charisma theory may also explain why Democrats tend to lose presidential elections. The core of the Democrats’ ideology seems to be a belief in government. Perhaps this tends to attract people who are earnest, but dull…
A different flavor of the same idea: The post-1970s Republicans need to have the more charismatic candidate to win, because otherwise the differences in the Republican coalition become apparent and the party fractures. (The Graham essay is what first interested me in this topic, and I consider it required reading for those curious about this subject.)
This is why likeability is everything for Romney, and history suggests that it is something which cannot be learned; so if he does not have it now, he never will. For that reason, there is very little reason to think Romney will win in November.