For much of the year, Mitt Romney has struggled with high-profile surrogates who don't seem to care for him. The trouble seems to be getting worse.
Shortly after Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) threw his support to Romney, the senator said, "There are a lot of other people out there that some of us wish had run for president -- but they didn't." When former NRCC Chairman Tom Davis endorsed Romney, he said on national television, "He may not be Mr. Personality. You know, he's the guy who gives the fireside chat and the fire goes out."
The latest is House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), ostensibly a leading Romney ally, who appeared at a fundraiser in West Virginia and raised a few eyebrows. Roll Call reported over the weekend:
The Ohio Republican made the remarks when an unidentified woman asked during a question-and-answer session: "Can you make me love Mitt Romney?""No," Boehner said. "Listen, we're just politicians. I wasn't elected to play God. The American people probably aren't going to fall in love with Mitt Romney."
The House Speaker said "some people" will want to vote for Romney -- specifically, Romney's "friends, relatives and fellow Mormons" -- but everyone else who backs Romney will be doing so, not because they think he'll be a good president, but because they hate President Obama. Ouch.
Is there any difference between Boehner's comments and what a Democrat would have said on the same issue? Not really.
As for the larger significance, I tend to think Boehner's assessment is accurate -- there's polling evidence that shows most of the president's support is genuine, but most of Romney's support is based on the fact that he's not Obama -- and I continue to wonder if it offers a potential hint about the eventual outcome.
In 2008, Republicans were motivated more by their opposition to Obama than their love of McCain. In 2004, Democratic voters were motivated more by their opposition to Bush than their love of Kerry.
In 2000, Bush voters like Bush more than Gore voters liked Gore. In 1996, genuine GOP support for Dole was limited, and Republicans simply relied on anti-Clinton hatred.
In recent elections, in other words, candidates with genuine support -- voters who actually like their guy, rather than simply hating the other guy -- have tended to do quite well. In 2012, Boehner and other Republicans don't seem terribly concerned by the fact that Romney isn't inspiring admiration, but rather, is counting on the incumbent inspiring hatred.
But this hasn't been a recipe for success lately.