SALT LAKE CITY — Next to a grimacing close-up of presidential candidate Mitt Romney's face, the latest cover of Time magazine asks, "Why Don't They Like Me?"
The five-page article by Joe Klein in the news magazine's Dec. 12 edition (available online to subscribers only) attempts to answer the question of why many Republicans appear to want anybody but Romney as their party's nominee.
Klein labeled the two-time White House contender "uninspiring to moderates and untrustworthy to conservatives, an unloved, forlorn front runner" who maintains the support of only about 20 percent of the GOP.
He cited a number of reasons familiar to political observers — Romney's too rich, too polished, too moderate, too elitist and a Mormon, "which usually goes unspoken but is a matter of real mistrust for many Evangelical Christian voters."
But Romney's real problem, according to the article, is "his brazen flip-floppery on issues large and small," described as an attempt to be seen as more conservative than he had to be in Massachusetts, where he ran for the U.S. Senate and was elected governor.
Klein wrote that despite Romney's strong debate performances and the diversion created by the troubles of his GOP opponents, "the question always remains: Who is he really? Do we have any clues as to what he actually believes?"
If he's elected, Klein concluded, "one wonders if he'll be able to summon the courage, the uncalculated courage, that has so often been missing in his presidential campaigns" to make the decision he'll confront as president.
"It sort of suggests as a final act there that Romney lacks character," University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle said of Klein's story. "That comes across in a very negative way."
Still, Hagle said, that might not hurt him much with GOP voters. "Time magazine isn't exactly one of the reliable sources Republicans count on for their political information," he said.
Hagle said the so-called "anybody but Romney" attitude among many Republicans comes despite his consistent performance on the campaign trail.
"He's been doing 'steady Eddie' throughout and even had some flashes of real strong campaign instincts," Hagle said. Sometimes, though, Romney comes off as a "little too programmed," especially on television.
Hagle dismissed the idea that Romney's membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was costing him support.
"The Mormon stuff always gets mentioned and I just hate that, because I don't think it's a factor," Hagle said. Social conservatives, including evangelicals, are more concerned that Romney may not be firm in his convictions on issues like abortion, he said.
Klein said Romney is adding to the impression that he's "either furtive or phony" in his political positions by limiting media appearances and avoiding the Sunday morning talk shows for nearly 20 months.
"It is the least accessible presidential campaign in memory," Klein said.
Romney's campaign did not respond to email requests for comment on the article.
Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics and a longtime supporter of Romney, said it's unfair to say voters dislike him.
Jowers said voters understand that "all good candidates evolve with the world around them, and with the new positions they're seeking," including Rommey.
Matthew Burbank, a political science professor at the U., said the article's questioning whether Romney would be able to make decisions as president because he's shifted his positions, goes too far.
"It sounds to me like that's a fairly strong overstatement," Burbank said. "What you're doing in a campaign is trying to get elected."