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Mark Shields: You’re Mitt Romney, and With Friends Like These ...

Republican presidential candidate's embrace of the Paul Ryan budget plan likely to further threaten his standing with voters

You’re Mitt Romney, and after six arduous — sometimes embarrassing — years of campaigning, the Republican presidential nomination, while still beyond your reach, may be finally in view.

Just 16 months ago, before the formal campaign began, according to the trusted Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, Americans rated their feelings toward you more positively than negatively by 28 percent to 20 percent. Now that same survey finds your positive remains at 28 percent, while your negative personal number has nearly doubled to 39 percent.

By way of comparison, at the same point in the 2008 campaign, the eventual Democratic nominee, now-President Barack Obama, then embroiled in a fierce contest with Hillary Clinton, received a positive personal rating from 49 percent and a negative from 34 percent.

You’re Romney, and you know that no presidential nominee has ever won the White House with the kind of negative personal ratings you’re now getting, but you can take some comfort from the fact that no U.S. president, except the sainted Franklin Roosevelt, has ever won re-election with the unemployment numbers of the Obama administration.

When asked in last month’s CNN/ORC survey whether Romney or Obama favors the rich, the middle class or the poor, the results were distressing for the GOP. Some 65 percent of voters believe Romney favors the rich to just 28 percent who see him favoring the middle class (a spacey 4 percent detect a previously unnoticed Romney tilt to the poor.) Obama was seen to be favoring the rich by 28 percent, the middle class by 40 percent and the poor by 32 percent.

The March CBS-New York Times poll asked, “Do you think (Mitt Romney/Barack Obama) understands the needs and problems of people like you?” By a solid 55 percent to 42 percent score, voters believe Obama understands their lives. Obama, it could be said, “feels their pain,” but not Romney. Just 31 percent of those polled think Romney understands what they are going through daily, while 59 percent, nearly twice as many, see him as failing to understand their needs and problems.

Add to this the lopsided majority of voters (77 percent) who find that “there is too much power in the hands of a few rich people and large corporations in the U.S.” and (the 61 percent) who believe that “the economic system in this country unfairly favors the wealthy” over the 36 percent who think the system is “generally fair to most Americans.”

So you’re Romney, and along comes the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, the man who The Wall Street Journal editorial page praises relentlessly as bold, courageous and intelligent. His name is Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and he has written a budget that while historically cutting health care and other special spending in its quest for fiscal solvency, would also cut the income tax rate of the richest Americans by at least 28.5 percent and extend the about-to-expire George W. Bush 2001 and 2003 tax cuts at a cost to the Treasury of $5.4 trillion over the next decade.

The average individual tax cut for struggling American millionaires, the same guys with whom Romney and the Republicans are judged to be too chummy and/or subservient towards, would be a measly $150,000 a year. At the same time, the Ryan budget (which Romney has embraced) would cut in the next 10 years $770 billion in Medicaid spending and other programs for less affluent Americans.

You’re Romney, and too many voters think you care too much about the rich and the powerful, and care and understand too little about their own struggles. You’re Romney, and with friends like the bold Ryan, your task just got a little tougher.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

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