Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

What's wrong with Romney the candidate

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst
September 19, 2012 -- Updated 0223 GMT (1023 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gloria Borger: Romney comment about the "47-percenters" inexplicable at first
  • She says Romney views the world from the point of view of a business executive
  • Romney was telling audience what he thought they wanted to hear, she says
  • Borger: Romney views electoral politics as "what he has to do to get into office and fix things"

Editor's note: Gloria Borger is CNN's chief political analyst, appearing regularly on shows such as "AC360˚" "The Situation Room," and "State of the Union."

(CNN) -- In watching Mitt Romney's painful -- and self-destructive -- gaffe about the "47 percenters," it at first seemed inexplicable, as if the man was writing off half of the electorate.

Never mind that the self-declared "victims" he's talking about include seniors (who actually voted Republican in 2010) and veterans (many of whom might be inclined to vote for the GOP). Or that they're also people who work hard and pay their payroll taxes, and might be getting some tax benefits for their children.

So what is it about Mitt Romney, who should know these things -- and probably does -- that makes him so gaffe-prone? Another way to ask the question: Why does a smart man say such stupid things?

iReport: I'm the 47% but - You're WRONG Mitt Romney!

Gloria Borger
Gloria Borger

I have a theory about this. In spending a lot of time this year thinking about Romney -- and speaking with those who know him the best, politically and personally while reporting a CNN documentary -- this much appears to be true: Romney has a businessman's approach to politics. Which means: He sizes up a situation (or an audience). He figures out what he needs to do to cut the deal. Then he does it, and expects it to work.

Ergo, Romney speaks to a group of conservative GOP fat cats, and tells them what he thinks they want to hear so they will cough up the dough. Belief is almost beside the point. He was closing the deal.

Borger: Romney has a businessman's approach
Romney: Obama voters dependent on govt.
Romney camp.: Video a 'bump in the road'
Strickland on Romney leak: 'Deep chasm'
Who are the 47%?

Here's something to know: While Romney was born into politics, he's not a natural-born politician. His father may have been a three-term Michigan governor, but he told his son to go into business first. So he did. And now Romney is a numbers guy who came to the ideological part of politics late. And it shows, especially when you are asking voters to trust what you believe to become president.

Some politicians are hatched out of strong loyalty to a cause or a party. Romney is a businessman who came to politics out of a strong sense of duty -- and belief in his own ability to repair what's broken. Getting elected is what you have to do so you can do what you're good at: fixing things.

(In an odd way, kind of like President Obama, who also believes getting elected is what you have to do so you can do what you're good at: transforming things.)

Romney has had much success painting the self-portrait as a Mr. Fix-it. While he couldn't defeat Ted Kennedy, he did become the governor of the liberal state of Massachusetts in 2002, running as a pro-choice moderate.

Opinion: How Romney really feels about Republicans

Once in office, though, when confronted with the difficult issue of abortion -- and looking at a presidential bid in the ever more conservative GOP -- he flipped, explaining to me that it was a matter of conscience, tempered by the reality of political power. "I realized what sounded good in a campaign, when I actually became the governor and would be the person who would sign a piece of legislation which could take human life -- I simply couldn't do that," he told me.

But there's no doubt about it: Romney had to move to the right to try and get the nomination, so he did in the 2008 campaign. And he did it again in 2012.

In trying to explain Romney's jujitsu, former adviser Alex Castellanos told me that Romney's journey on social issues was the journey of a businessman who "mainly looked at governing as an economic proposition, all of a sudden confronting some social issues as a mature adult responsible for human life. And so he did evolve there."

Fast-forward to the "severely conservative" candidate of the 2012 primaries. And to the latest fundraiser chat in which Romney says half of the American public believes it has been victimized, and the government needs to take care of them.

CNNMoney: Romney's '47%

All of which leads to this question: Does Romney believe any of this stuff?

In the end, it's hard to know.

But I'll subscribe to a theory advanced by David Brooks in The New York Times today: that Romney is a "decent man who says stupid things because he is pretending to be something he is not -- some sort of cartoonish government-hater."

Maybe that's what Romney thought he needed to be to cut the deal. But the problem is, presidential politics isn't just business. It's personal.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT