With uncanny precision, the Republican Party and its membership, abetted by the Tea Party and powerful negative public opinion that holds Congress in virtual contempt, have formed not one but multiple circular firing squads that have already pumped too many political shots into the campaign of front-runner and almost certain nominee Mitt Romney.
Attacks on Romney crafted by his opponents for the nomination will be plagiarized and assimilated into the Democratic play book for the election. Ridiculed as a "Massachusetts Moderate" in the image of Michael Dukakis, a prior Bay State governor and Democratic presidential candidate in 1988; as a serial flip-flopper altering strongly held positions in the wake of even gently countering political breezes; and as a corporate raider and practitioner of destructive capitalism, the elect-Obama team has an abundance of already made Republican attack ads to pummel Romney.
To be sure, Obama has other important, non-Republican advantages. He is highly articulate. Demographics with rising non-white populations are in his electoral favor. Public animosity toward Congress has focused more on Republican intransigence and the tendency "just to say no" than Democratic ineptness even though for Obama's first two years in office, Democrats controlled both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
The president remains personally popular despite and a style that, to many, is aloof and too professorial. He has few foreign and domestic policy successes outside of eliminating Osama bin Laden. Even NATO's victory in ending the decades-long rule of Libya's Moammar Gadhafi proved pyrrhic for the administration because of the unfortunate and unrepudiated phrase of "leading from behind."
At home, while the White House will spin and manipulate any signs of good economic news to advantage, at best the recovery is fragile and hostage to a collapse of the euro.
Abroad and while dealt a horrible hand by his predecessor, Iraq and Afghanistan seem to deteriorate from bad to worse. Iran is threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz while intensifying its uranium enrichment program exacerbating fears about building its first nuclear weapon. And the ill-named Arab Spring is far from turning the corner in establishing even rudimentary forms of democracy in Libya and Egypt.
Regarding Romney, his strengths in terms of his record as businessman, head of the Winter Olympics and governor have been cast as weaknesses by his rivals. The Economist's headline on this week's cover over Romney's picture was "America's Next CEO?"
But does the United States need a "CEO" president any more than it needed a professor, peanut farmer or former governors with no real experience in governance as chief executive? Herein rests the tragedy facing the nation and both political parties.
Both parties have been radicalized by the ideological extremes of left and right. "Guns, gays, God and gestation periods," along with total resistance to new taxes, are central to the Republican mantra. Democrats are waging class warfare against the top wage earners demanding they pay a larger share of taxes while refusing to reform entitlements and the tax code. Compromise is a dirty word and civility is missing in action as, in the battle to win election, the other side is automatically declared wrong and a danger to the nation.
Should Romney win the nomination, it is in his reach to change this self-defeating death spiral in politics while decommissioning Republican circular firing squads. To do this, however, he must reject the rigid ideological views of his party and to take a great deal of heat in the process of moving to a more rational, centrist position that would have cost him the nomination but is the only way to win the general election.
The first step is most critical. How will Romney work with Congress and a divided government to make crucial changes that have proven elusive to date? Regarding the economy, regulatory, entitlement and tax reform must top any agenda irrespective of ideology and proposed economic policies. How will he make that happen?
Regarding national security, what does Romney propose to make the nation safer understanding that defense budgets must shrink, probably dramatically, to accommodate economic reality and an international environment in which there is no existential threat to the United States?
Regarding public expectations, how does Romney candidly tell his fellow Americans that there is no magic cure to our economic travail and that standards of living are likely to decline unless the nation is prepared to take fairly drastic and even painful action to change that course?
"Ready, aim, fire" not "ready, fire, aim" is the order of the day!
(Harlan Ullman is chairman of the Killowen Group, which advises leaders of government and business, and senior adviser at Washington's Atlantic Council.)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)