A couple of days before the Republicans’ New Hampshire primary, ABC hosted a debate for the GOP field, during which every candidate on the stage att
January 23, 2008

A couple of days before the Republicans’ New Hampshire primary, ABC hosted a debate for the GOP field, during which every candidate on the stage attacked Mitt Romney. It was a reminder that, for all the competing interests and personalities in the Republican contest, these guys really don’t like Mitt Romney.

At the end of the Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire this month, when the Democrats joined the candidates on stage, Mitt Romney found himself momentarily alone as his counterparts mingled, looking around a bit stiffly for a companion.

The moment was emblematic of a broader reality that has helped shape the Republican contest and could take center stage again on Thursday at a debate in Florida. Within the small circle of contenders, Mr. Romney has become the most disliked. [...]

Mike Huckabee’s pugilistic campaign chairman, Ed Rollins, appeared to stop just short of threatening Mr. Romney with physical violence at one point.

“What I have to do is make sure that my anger with a guy like Romney, whose teeth I want to knock out, doesn’t get in the way of my thought process,” Mr. Rollins said.

A spokesman for the Romney campaign, Kevin Madden, said, “I think it’s largely driven by the fact that everybody’s taught to tackle the guy on the field with the ball.”

That’s a reasonably good spin, but I don’t think that’s it.

The NYT pointed to a variety of explanations why the rest of the Republican field just doesn’t like this guy on a personal level: Romney has aired more negative commercials against his GOP rivals than anyone else, and pushed a negative tone earlier than the other candidates; he's seen as an ideological panderer; his ability to tap his personal fortune generates resentment from candidates who struggle to raise money; and Romney, who has just four years of experience in public office, is seen as not having “paid his dues.”

I think all of these points have merit, but I’d just add that Romney, every step of the way, has been “the other guy.” By that I mean, when McCain started out as the GOP frontrunner early on, it was Romney who was positioned as his most credible rival. Over the summer, when Giuliani was considered the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, his principal foe was Romney, who was trying to highlight the former mayor’s less-than-conservative record. When Thompson got in the race, his principal foe was Romney, who was trying to hold onto the GOP base. When Huckabee started gaining support in Iowa, his principal foe was Romney, who was trying to characterize the Arkansas governor as unreliable on taxes and immigration. Now that McCain is ascendant again, he’s in a two-man race … with Romney.

For practically an entire year now, the various campaigns have gone up and down, but in every instance, there was Romney, in their face and presenting himself to voters like an ingratiating, toadying Eddie Haskell.

And no one ever liked Eddie Haskell.

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