If any comedian ever gets around to producing a good Mitt Romney impression (the lack of which I've lamented before), Romney's laugh is going to have to be a key part of it. The laugh was probably best described by New York Times reporter Ashley Parker, who wrote, "Mr. Romney’s laugh often sounds like someone stating the sounds of laughter, a staccato 'Ha. Ha. Ha.'" Gary Wills wonders what exactly Mitt's laugh is meant to communicate (his possibilities include "I want to show I am just a regular fellow, so I'll try out my regular-fellow laugh"), but that's the easy question. Romney's laugh is meant to say, "I am amused." The more important question is, why does Mitt Romney laugh? I think I know the answer to that one too.
But before I tell you, we should understand that there is more than one Romney laugh, even though they all come out suddenly, tiny explosions of unfelt mirth. Sometimes it's that "Oh my, that is crazy!", but at other times Romney's laugh sounds like he's surrounded by a biker gang and the leader of the gang has just made a joke, so Romney is laughing along desperately in hopes they won't kill him. If that seems overly specific, watch this video and tell me you don't agree.
But the reason Romney laughs is simple: He laughs when he's uncomfortable. That may not be the case in private, when he's kicking back with that bunch of tricksters and goofballs that the Romney clan no doubt is, but his laughs in public almost always come when he's been asked a probing question or finds himself saying something to which he thinks his audience will react negatively. That's why the laughs are always so jarring, not so much because of their particular form (we all do a fake laugh for other people's benefit now and again), but because they come at utterly inappropriate moments. They come when he ought to be grimacing, not laughing. That's why when Mitt Romney laughs, nobody laughs with him.