Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

What's wrong with Romney the candidate

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst
updated 10:23 PM EDT, Tue September 18, 2012
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
updated 12:50 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
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.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
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.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT