No Presidential Challengers Have Any Heart

Andrew Cotto doesn’t think any of the challengers to President Obama have enough compassion to succeed.

As of last Sunday, the presidential election of 2012 is one year away, and while the general consensus from political pundits, 52 weeks out from the election, is that, given the economic plight of the nation, the Democratic administration is surely in jeopardy. But I’d argue it is really the Republican Party that has a problem. In fact, they have a major problem. Despite the electoral gift of national dismay and a struggling economy under an opposition president, the Republican candidates have struggled to connect with even die-hard party voters. This is important. The substantive matters of policy and competence and presidential stature haven’t even made it to the forefront of consideration for the general electorate.

We are in a glorified courting period, which should be full of promise and romance and the groundwork for a national campaign to win over hearts and minds. A test-run for a consensus. But what, it seems, the Republicans candidates have displayed so far is a speed-dating process that has led to a string of trysts but no meaningful love. There’s no hint of any commitment. Instead, we’ve had a tide of infatuations that recede shortly after arrival. And the primary reason for the lack of passion from even committed Republican voters is that there’s no love, no promise of any kind coming from the majority of candidates. Their positions are overwhelmingly negative.

Beyond nearly-rabid contempt for the nation’s president, the Republican field also has unabashed disdain for the young, the elderly, the unemployed, the media, gay people, gay soldiers, the ill and uninsured, immigrants, gun-control advocates, women of choice, men of science, the environment, those ravaged by the environment, people sentenced to death, and people who rely on the government for support or employment (i.e. the underclass and those who teach our children, repair our streets, patrol our streets, and put out fires on those streets). That’s a lot of disdain. Who wants to cozy up to that? Americans, as a people, covet optimism. We want that next big idea, that collective altruism that will lead us into the Promised Land that our blessed democracy can provide. We want equality. Justice. Fairness. Opportunity. Hope. What we have instead is the hard disdain of soft desperation.


From a campaign perspective, these ideas of optimism and fairness are not the sole territory of Democrats. Ronald Reagan promised an American return to the shining city on top of the hill. George W. Bush preached compassionate conservatism. Say what you will about the reality of such rhetoric, we as a country see no such promise of promise in the majority of Republican presidential candidates of 2012.

The Herman Cain phenomenon—and a black, Republican, motivational speaker/lobbyist with no government experience, no knowledge of government, no campaign operation, and a gimmicky tax proposal who somehow leads in national polls is a phenomenon—can be explained by his general affability. Before the smoking man weirdness and the sexual harassment disaster, Cain seemed like a nice man. The kind of guy who does well at picnics and parties. He was not a ram-it-down-your-throat conservative. Sure, as a candidate, before the debacles, he talked poppycock about apples and oranges and everything else, but he did so with a smile and swagger that connoted warmth and inclusiveness. Mostly, the Herman Cain phenomenon spoke to the unappealing nature of the other Republican presidential candidates.

And after all the fleeting and shifting infatuation with other candidates, Mitt Romney is left as the inevitable Republican nominee for president. As I wrote back in July, “And if this trend continues, as it probably will with some coo-coo moments along the way in the primaries, Mitt Romney will be the Republican candidate for president in 2012.” Back then, I was thinking more of Romney’s relative-sanity along with his financial experience. What most differentiates him now from the primary field, though, is his indifference: And this is the huge problem faced by the Republican Party. Mitt Romney is the tin-man candidate. He has no heart for anything beyond corporations and the fiduciary responsibility to which they are beholden.

The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference. Mitt Romney emotes indifference. His record is stacked with amazing episodes of flag shifting to meet the wind. “On any given day…” could be his mantra. The only thing he seems to be consistently passionate about is making money—and how to make more of it. Damn the consequences. This is not a good quality in such a populist environment. At a recent town hall meeting, Romney responded to an attendee who attached capitalism’s heartlessness. “Corporations are people!” He said with a rare spark of passion. This would not be an affective bumper sticker. In the 2008 race for the Republican nomination, Mike Huckabee described Mitt Romney as the guy who looks like the guy who laid you off. Ouch.

This is particularly bad news for the Republican Party when they shed the sanctity of their own forums and enter the general election. Say what you will about President Obama, candidate Obama possesses some serious skills. This guy can bring it on the campaign trail. His warmth and eloquence and intellect as a candidate are unrivaled in contemporary history. And his message will be simple: let’s put America back to work by taxing the wealthy at a fair rate. Let’s level the playing field by eliminating loopholes that benefit the massive minority who possess the overwhelming majority of our nation’s wealth. This distinction will be far easier for the President to make when his opponent is a near-perfect caricature for that minority of which he speaks.

I’ll let the political pundits work their magic calculi and follow conventional wisdom that leaves the President’s reelection chances as slim according to the numbers. He’s certainly in a vulnerable position, considering the troubled state of our nation, but when the opposition’s ethos is rooted in anger or indifference towards so many Americans, I’ll bet on heart every time.

—Photo AP

About Andrew Cotto

Andrew Cotto is the author of THE DOMINO EFFECT and OUTERBOROUGH BLUES: A BROOKLYN MYSTERY. His novels can be found at Amazon and Barnes&Noble.  Learn more about Andrew at his website.


  1. Thanks, Todd.

    It’s really a shame, too, since a qualified candidate from the Republicans would make such a better election and environment for America.



  2. Another stellar article Andy. Republican candidates have no heart and seemed filled with hate. They are their own worst enemy, none of them seem to be capable of defeating Obama,let alone leading the country.

  3. The GOP has slim pickin’s for potential contenders right now, and I’m lovin’ it. Forget candidates with heart; how about just an actual worthy candidate? It will be interesting to see who eventually emerges. They always seem to pull a rabbit out of the hat. If Mitt ends up being their guy, I’m sure the GOP will be masterful in repainting his image into what they think the masses want. It’s up to the public not to be fooled. “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”

    Right now, and I know it’s early… but the way it’s looking, it’s only for Obama to lose. If he can’t out shine any one of these current GOP candidates, then it will be a shame on him… OR just a flat out shame.

  4. Thanks, Kevin.

    Great point about the type of people politics attracts these days, though, I, too, remain optimistic.



  5. Hey Andrew – I agree with you. Optimism is missing from everyone’s platform, especially the republicans. Politics have become such an expensive game that I worry people with heart don’t have the money to run and compete as they once could. Obama has heart. I hope we can get four more years with him and turn the economy around. I’m optimistic. Thanks for the article.

  6. Point well-taken, Copyleft, but being this overt with all the underlying contempt is a new tactic, and I’d like to be one of those who prescribe its failure (yesterday’s elections might just be the sign that I’m right).



  7. “the Republican field also has unabashed disdain for the young, the elderly, the unemployed, the media, gay people, gay soldiers, the ill and uninsured, immigrants, gun-control advocates, women of choice, men of science, the environment, those ravaged by the environment, people sentenced to death, and people who rely on the government for support or employment ”

    Did you miss the part where they’re Republicans? Besides, it’s pre-primary season, aka “stroking the crazies.” The key to a successful primary run is to appeal to the most rabid and fanatical outer fringe of your party. Why else do you think Michele Bachmann was even on the roster?

  8. Well-said, Pat. It’s the “entitlement” you speak of which really characterized Romney. He may be a wonderful man, but he does not come across, neither in formal nor informal situations, as people connected to people. This can’t be underestimated when part of the job of a candidate is to do just that.

    Thanks for writing!



  9. Mitt Romney’s sense of entitlement is exactly what turns people off. His obvious desperation to be president is evident in his whole demeanor. He looks and sounds so presidential that I’m sure it’s a mystery to him why others can’t see what he sees. This sense of entitlement is in my opionion exactly what keeps him from his goal. Andrew, you hit the nail on the head. It’s Romney’s lack of awareness of others’ needs, and his obvious narcissism that people react to. Unfortunately, for him you either have heart or you don’t. I don’t think he even understand what’s so obvious to the rest of us.

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