Since his triumphal debate appearance, the prospect of president Willard Mitt Romney walking into the White House in January has gone from being an almost inane joke to a very serious prospect for a once hesitant David Cameron to consider.
In the last two years the British prime minster has gotten along famously with his American counterpart. Despite having near polar opposite reactions to the financial crisis, the two leaders have worked in tandem on the world stage. It's fair to speculate that Cameron would be fairly satisfied to see Obama re-elected in November, but how would he feel if he wasn't? There are reasons to suggest that he might be slightly miffed by a president Mitt.
For many on the right, the idea of Romney and Cameron working together is seductively appealing. Both believe their countries have been spending far too much for far too long and that the only sensible escape from the current crisis is to cut spending to reduce the deficit and to cut red tape to encourage growth and to do so as quickly as possible. Like Reagan and Thatcher before them, they could present a united Western economic philosophy and usher us away from big governments with big debts. Could the timing possibly be any better? There is however a problem and like many of the prime minister's problems it largely comes down to public image.
Mitt Romney has effectively been running for president since 2007 and in that time he has not only been extensively scrutinised by all corners of the US media but has also simultaneously been forced to please the fringe elements of the Republican Party and he has come of these twin ordeals with deep scars in his reputation. It is now widely known that while Mitt was making millions of dollars though his private equity business, Bain Capital, he was also hiding those same millions in offshore tax havens. As a result, even before he was infamous recorded disregarding 47% of the American public, he already had the highest disapproval rating of any presidential nominee.
All of this will only serve to make the prime minister nervous about the prospect of Romney becoming the face of a 'special relationship' that is only really discussed in Britain; where Mitt characteristically humiliated him prior to the Olympics. Cameron, who is already alleged to have condemned the candidate as a man with the "unique distinction of uniting all of England against him", will also be acutely aware that as Tony Blair's premiership progressed it was increasingly defined by his relationship with George Bush. Having watched Blair polling in the 70's under Clinton only to become reviled as 'Bush's Poodle' three years later, the Prime Minister could be forgiven for cringing when Romney deploys his tactless brand of fighting talk against Tehran and Damascus.
While Barack Obama is perceived (rightly or wrongly) as a cautious and considerate statesman on the world stage, his opponent has gone out of his way to present himself as a stronger and more aggressive prospect, who has already promised to use his first day in office to "declare China a currency manipulator." Because Cameron has spent the last two years distancing himself from Europe he will need the special relationship to be as strong as possible and for a man of caution, that means a strong preference for Obama's re-election.
On top of this Romney is terminally stained by the awkward perfume of elitism, something Cameron is and always has been trying desperately to run away from. Romney, who inherited a fortune from his father, has, for the last few years, been encouraged by his party to strangle the welfare state. By now the prime minister will be sick of this association; it has been hard enough for him to downplay his sketch relationships with Rupert Murdoch, Heather Brooks and Michael Ashcroft without having to smile alongside Mitt 'corporations are people' Romney.
Cameron does not wish to be defined by his days in the Bullingdon club, nor would he want to be associated with Andrew Mitchell's 'plebs' or Mitt Romney's 'victims'. He would much rather sustain the fading belief that 'we are all in this together'. Cameron has struggled to present an image of the 'conservative with a small c' whereas Romney has promised to be a "severely conservative president". The last thing David Cameron needs is another public imaged liability and the last place he would like to find one is on the lawn of the White House.
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