He holds all the standard Republican policy positions, but only rarely goes further to the right than the bulk of his party — he is not as libertarian as Texas Governor Rick Perry or as moralistic as Rick Santorum, and does not spew the emotional extremism of Newt Gingrich.
Romney has also never held federal office — as he is extremely fond of saying, to differentiate himself from Santorum and Gingrich — which means he is distanced from the much-hated Republicans of the current Congress, as well as from the administration of George W. Bush. In fact, his thin record in public office means that Romney comes to this election with very few political votes or actions to defend.
And yet, among persuadable "swing voters," he is hard to smear as inexperienced or ill-prepared for the office; Romney comes across as an accomplished, capable leader, with the résumé to back it up.
Blandness might not sound like a compelling attribute in a candidate, but it is exactly what the opposition party needs, to keep the focus on the failings of the incumbent.
Come fall, Romney provides few distractions for the Obama campaign to key on. His personal life is sparkling clean. He has no glaring lapses in ethics. The most problematic aspects of his business dealings are too complex, or too far removed from Romney himself, for easy criticism.
Obviously, as evidenced by his polling slump, there is plenty to dislike about Romney. But little of what's hurt him so far looks too bad to overcome, says Brendan Nyhan, assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College. Nyhan points out that, in 1992, Bill Clinton emerged from the nomination fight with worse disapproval numbers than Romney has, arguably based on more concrete flaws.
"It's hard to argue that [Romney's] image hasn't been damaged." Nyhan says. But, he argues, many of the Republicans who are currently helping push the attacks on Romney will most likely be on his side this fall, training their fire on Obama.
ON THE ATTACK
Meanwhile, the primaries have demonstrated two strengths that should serve Romney well in the general election: the ability to run a large, fast-moving, drama-free campaign operation, and a talent for finding and exploiting his opponents' weaknesses.
The Republican nominee will need to hammer away at every Obama vulnerability, to convince the large numbers of disappointed and disapproving voters— who tend to like Obama personally — that they must fire the president.
Romney has proven ruthlessly efficient at demolishing Perry, Gingrich, and Santorum, among others. Granted, none of them were in the fighting class of Obama and his team. But Romney is a fantastic negative campaigner — disciplined, brutal, and unconcerned with truth or fairness.
And he'll have plenty of money with which to wage war on the president. On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that, while the Priorities USA Action super PAC had raised $2 million in February donations in support of Obama's re-election, the top GOP super PAC, American Crossroads, expects to eventually raise $240 million. That's not even counting other deep-pocketed conservatives like the Koch brothers, who have made it their mission to dethrone Obama, whatever the cost.