On an episode of The Office from a few years ago, the desperately insecure character of Andy Bernard (played by Ed Helms) hits upon a strategy to ingratiate himself with people, called "personality mirroring." He begins not only repeating what people say to him, but adopting the precise manner and mood of whoever he's talking to. This is pretty much how Mitt Romney went about running for president. A man deeply unsuited to the gladhanding required of a politician made himself into one, through a titanic act of will. And just like when Andy Bernard did it, it was incredibly awkward and off-putting. As the old saying has it, sincerity is the most important thing—if you can fake that, you've got it made. Trouble was, Mitt just couldn't, hard though he might have tried.
And it turns out, Mitt didn't even want to run for president a second time. Veteran reporter Dan Balz is coming out with a book about the 2012 campaign, and he learned of the internal Romney family deliberations. They took a vote, and 10 out of 12 Romneys, including Mitt himself, said he shouldn't run. Here's an excerpt:
Mitt Romney has a few paths to victory, some more likely than others. He could repeat George W. Bush’s performance in 2004 and carry the White House with wins in Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, and Ohio. He could cede Virginia to Obama and take Colorado and New Hampshire. He could give up Colorado and New Hampshire but win Wisconsin and the single electoral vote in Omaha, Nebraska. He could lose Ohio and make up for it with Virginia, Colorado, and Wisconsin.
"I would point out that we have one president at a time and one administration at a time," President Obama said in June, responding to a critical op-ed by a Romney adviser in a German newspaper. "And I think traditionally, the notion has been that America’s political differences end at the water’s edge.” The president was merely restating one of the nation's oldest remaining traditions of bipartisan comity. The op-ed kerfuffle was, of course, absolutely nothing compared to the Romney campaign's latest break from that tradition.
CHARLOTTE—Since 1980, three Massachusettians have run for president—Mitt Romney, John Kerry and Michael Dukakis. Romney is not at the Democratic National Convention, obviously, and Kerry is somewhere away from the main floor. But Dukakis was mulling around the downstairs press area, talking to reporters and prepping for a radio show.
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA—Delegates were enthusiastic for every prime-time speaker at the Democratic National Convention last night. San Antonio mayor Julian Castro received big applause for his riff on opportunity—“My mother fought for civil rights, so that instead of a mop, I could hold this microphone”—and former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland won cheers for his harsh attacks on Mitt Romney’s “economic patriotism.”
But for all of its excitement, the crowd saved its adulation for Michelle Obama’s closing message to tonight’s session of the convention. She was a superstar—delegations passed out “Michelle Obama” signs, attendees stood and clapped at every opportunity, and on several occasions, she was drowned out by the roar of the crowd.
When Gore Vidal died a few weeks ago, eulogies quoted his famous observation that “the more money an American accumulates the less interesting he himself becomes.” Vidal originally wrote these words in a 1972 essay on Howard Hughes, but who could read them today and not think of Willard Mitt Romney?
Since I write about politics for a living, my family and friends often ask me for my opinions about matters political, and in recent days these queries have taken on an edge — not quite panic, but let's call it worry. "Romney doesn't really have a chance, does he?" one person asked me yesterday with a quaver in her voice. Well, sure he has a chance, I replied. I'm still fairly confident that Obama is going to win in the end, but Romney does have a chance.
Which brings us to this week and the Republican convention. Right now, the race is essentially tied. If you look at averages of the polls, you see anything from an Obama advantage of about a point (that's what the pollster.com average has) to a Romney advantage of half a point (that's what the TPM average has). On the other hand, everybody sees a substantial advantage for Obama in the electoral college. But this is a good time for liberals to prepare themselves for something: at the end of this week, Mitt Romney is going to be ahead in most every poll. Don't panic.
This afternoon, while campaigning in Michigan, Mitt Romney made a little joke about President Obama’s birth certificate:
Here’s the text:
I love being home, in this place where Ann and I were raised. Where both of us were born … No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised.
I didn’t mention this in my previous post, but in addition to the aforementioned questions, NBC News and the Wall Street Journal asked respondents about the recent controversies over Bain Capital and Mitt Romney’s tax returns to gage whether they affected support for the Republican nominee. Neither result was good. Here’s the first question:
Has what you have seen, read, or heard about Mitt Romney’s previous business experience managing a firm that specializes in buying, restructuring, and selling companies made you feel … more positive or more negative about him, not made much difference in your opinion or do you not know enough about this to have an opinion at this time?
So far in his campaign for the presidency, Mitt Romney has had four big chances to move the needle in his direction. At the beginning, when he won the Republican nomination; during June, when it became clear that the economy was slowing down; last month, when he went abroad; and two weekends ago, when he chose Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate.
Republicans up for election in 2012—from Mitt Romney down to the most junior member of Congress—don't want to talk about social issues. Their success is predicated upon talking about the economy—and then talking about the economy some more—and making arguments about why they deserve a shot at trying to jump-start the job market. But when a member of Congress says that in instances of "legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," the narrative is bound to veer wildly off-course.
I've made my case that Mitt Romney just might be the most dishonest presidential candidate in modern history, but the question is, what should we do about it? Or more specifically, what should reporters do about it? One of the worst things about "objective" he said/she said coverage is that it basically gives candidates permission to lie by removing any kind of disincentive they might feel for not telling the truth. After all, candidates are (mostly) rational actors, and if lying isn't accompanied by any kind of punishment, they're going to do it as long as it works.
I'm not sure that Mitt Romney's Medicare lies are actually producing a positive effect other than tickling the Republican base deep down in the secret corner of its id, but he's certainly sticking with it. All of which led Prospect alum Garance Franke-Ruta to suggest one possible solution...
Politics is tough, and most politicians—including President Obama—are willing to bend the truth to win an election. But there’s a difference between the small distortions of all campaigns, and the brazen dishonesty we’re seeing from Romney. In a 48-hour period, Mitt Romney has doubled-down on the false charge that Obama has ended work requirements for welfare, lied about the Affordable Care Act’s Medicare cost savings, and kicked up a storm over comments made by Vice President Joe Biden.
After months of leaving practically every element of his policy proposals on the level of abstraction, Mitt Romney has finally offered a bit of clarity. According to his policy director, a President Romney would overturn all of the cuts to Medicare included in the Affordable Care Act, a figure that initially totaled $500 billion but has increased to $700 billion in the three years since the bill became a law. The bulk of these cuts are noncontroversial—Paul Ryan's budget, notably, maintains them—and they don't harm seniors' care one bit, despite Romney's wild claims.