Is Mitt Romney Being Handled?

by Bob Schwartz

It is preposterous to think that a Presidential candidate, let alone a President, is being “handled” by other people or forces, instead of just informed and guided. Politicians at that level are accomplished and have big egos, ranging from large to XXL, that seemingly would not permit it.

But less preposterous is the idea that others believe that they should, can, or will handle the candidate. It is an idea that thrives given Mitt Romney’s uncertainty, reticence and vacillation about his positions. It is an idea that has currency. It is an idea that is bothering people, and in an election year, that means voters.

History teaches that some Presidents and candidates have been more malleable or more stubborn than others. One proposed theme of the George W. Bush Presidency is that Dick Cheney really ran the country, that he was the real President, and that Bush merely carried out his bidding. Cheney undoubtedly had huge influence, but the idea that Bush rolled over at his command is inconsistent with anything we know about the ego that was Bush.

More than a century ago, in the election of 1896, it was suggested that Mark Hanna was not only the mastermind of William McKinley’s campaign, but that Hanna was the master of the McKinley Presidency. This idea has persisted since, though some historians believe it was more of a synergistic partnership, each one playing to his political and strategic strengths.

There are not so veiled intimations from insurgent forces in the Republican Party that Romney is expected to be a “team player” once he is in the White House. We don’t know what is said in private, but in public Romney hasn’t so much failed to toe the Tea Party line as failed to toe any line. This encourages some to think that he will ultimately fall into the right place, but others to worry that he will blithely fall into the wrong place.

In other words, there is thinking—well founded or not— that Mitt Romney can or will allow himself to be handled. For some operatives and for many voters, the only question is by whom and for what.