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Do you remember the early days of the GOP primary — when all the non-Romneys were taking their turns humiliating the future nominee of the party?

Early November 2011 was Herman Cain’s chance to shame Mitt. In some polls, Cain reached 30 percent, heights that Romney didn’t scale till months later. Riding this crest, Cain sat down with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. A journalist asked him: “So do you agree with President Obama on Libya or not?”

For the next full minute, the former CEO of Godfather Pizza seemed to be playing Password with the questioner, attempting to jar some clue about which talking point he was supposed to repeat. At one point, he actually says, “No, that’s not the line.”

And this was the man who was leading Mitt Romney in polls before allegations of extra-martial affairs – which he alternately blamed on Rick Perry and the “Democrat Machine” — forced him to suspend his campaign.

If you look at Mitt Romney’s qualifications to be president, winning the GOP primary isn’t one. The only reasonable opponent he had – Jon Huntsman – never had a shot. Losing to Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich, who both departed Congress in shame, would have been a humiliation. Romney does have two accomplishments in public life that stand out, however.

The former CEO of Bain Capital revived the scandal-plagued 2002 Winter Olympics with the help of what resembled a federal bailout. But his greater accomplishment was signing Massachusetts’ health care reform — RomneyCare — into law. To do this, he worked with former foes including the late Senator Ted Kennedy to craft a centrist approach that insured nearly all the citizens in his state. (And because his state was liberal Massachusetts, he also insured undocumented workers with a plan that covered gay couples and subsidized abortion.)

This was an achievement that clearly qualified him for national prominence. But what has Mitt Romney been doing since then?

Since 2006, Mitt Romney has been running to become the President of the Republican Party, which may be the worst possible preparation to become a candidate for President of the United States.

In that time the GOP suffered two stunning electoral defeats and presided over a horrendous financial crisis. Each defeat drove the party further right and took Mitt Romney with it.

Having cast aside his pro-abortion rights beliefs as governor, Romney found there was no position he would not surrender – gun control, immigration reform, welfare waivers. In the minds of many Republicans, RomneyCare — his sole qualification to be president — nearly disqualified him. To compensate, he pretended that ObamaCare, which resembled his plan in every way, might be socialism itself. His tone and tenor, not to mention his ideology, continuously evolved into a personality that made more sense on cable TV than in the White House.

It’s easy to imagine Romney with a devil Rush Limbaugh on his right should shoulder shouting, “Call the president weak! Say we’ll take their oil.” And on the other shoulder, the slightly less devilish former Bush advisor David Frum whispering, “Just say you’re very, very disappointed in the president. Americans do not vote for divisive figures.”

Romney again and again has knuckled under to that bloated little devil, choosing the path that pleases his base and turns off everyone else.

He sticks to a narrative emphasizing the president’s otherness, claiming that Obama apologizes for America. and wants to turn the country into Europe. He went to the NAACP just to be booed. He bumbled through his foreign policy trip like a Cheney in a china shop. He chose a running mate who thrilled the Koch brothers but was a proven drag on his ticket, offering none of the foreign policy experience Romney so desperately lacks.

And when a genuine crisis hit in Libya, Romney decided to lash out at the president while American lives were still in danger. This thrilled right-wingers who didn’t understand why the rest of the media saw Romney’s rush to judgement as a humiliating gaffe. He was being like Reagan! Right?

Except that during the 1980 campaign, when the mission to free the hostages in Iran failed, it was Reagan who said:  “This is the time for us as a nation and a people to stand united.”

But, of course, that was 30 years ago, before Republicans had their own media and even their own pollsters to tell them that they are always right. Back in 19880, Republican candidates understood that to become president they had to demonstrate certain traits of someone capable of governing. The GOP primary wasn’t simply a contest to see who can say the worst things about the Commander-in-Chief.

Romney wasn’t being Reaganesque. He was being Limbaughesque. Somehow the Republican Party can no longer tell the difference.

After six years of far-right hazing — with constant admonishments whenever he accidentally said something positive about his own health care reform — what else would you expect Mitt Romney to be?

Photo credit: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File

Photo by Biden For President/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch

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