“In the general election, you don’t have to be any one ideological thing in order to win over the country. But you have to not be a liar.
“Here’s how else Mitt Romney is like an Etch a Sketch. It is not just speaking French, it is not just outsourcing jobs to China, it is not just fudging his conservatism, it’s fudging everything, all the time. And this is hard to talk about in the day-to-day news context, because there are such low expectations for politicians to be truthful, and because the word ‘lie’ is underused and overused to the on the where everybody’s a little bit touchy about it.
“But the degree to which Mr. Romney lies all the time about all sorts of stuff and doesn’t care when he gets caught is maybe the single most notable thing about his campaign.”
While the old axiom that there is no such thing as bad news no longer seems so axiomatic, perhaps the best reason to speculate whether or not Romney will run for president is that he generates a lot of press attention. Over at msnbc, Chris Matthews today raised the spectre of the GOP’s low-yield crop of contenders in the wake of Mark Leibovich’s swooning vignette, while David Corn of Mother Jones drives home the takeaway:
Leibovich is right; this seems to be the first time Romney has tried to place responsibility for his comment on the person who asked him the question. That supporter was not rambling. Here’s what he asked: “For the last three years, all everybody’s been told is, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.’ How are you going to do it, in two months before the elections, to convince everybody you’ve got to take care of yourself?” That was a straightforward query, succinctly put, not rambling at all. It was Romney who took the point to the next level and proclaimed that a specific number of Americans were lazy freeloaders who could not and would not fend for themselves.
To recap: Romney has gone from side-stepping the remark, to owning the thrust of this comment (though noting it was not well articulated), to saying he was wrong, to denying he said what he said (and contending his words were distorted), to claiming he was only mirroring the rambling remarks of a big-money backer. This last explanation is certainly not fair to the 1-percenter who merely expressed his very 1-percentish opinion. Does this mean that Romney was thrown off his game by a simple question—or that he was trying to suck up to a donor?
That political media are fascinated with the idea of a Romney Round Three is evident, but the question is why? Does this or that pundit really think Romney is viable? And is this or that reporter actually reporting news or trying to fashion a narrative? Is the narrative political? Commercial? Journalistic? Mitt Romney is very good at begging for attention, and the media are anxious to give, even if it is just because someone thinks it will draw advertising revenue.
But what has Mr. Romney for substance? It is better to take his words to Leibovich with a grain of embittered salt:
I asked [Paul] Ryan if the film’s warm portrayal might argue for a looser, less scripted approach to campaigns. “The pressure you get from the consultant class to conform to the norm and do these stock standard things drives me nuts, personally,” he said.
When I asked Romney the same question, however, he said the exact opposite. “There will be no free time in the back of the plane where you’d just go back and shoot the breeze with the media,” he told me. He would do this occasionally, but his aides argued against it. “They were always afraid that, you know, I’d make some little joke or someone would ask some question that couldn’t be answered—you know, ‘When did you stop beating your wife?'” Romney told me that during the campaign, the F.B.I. informed him that a foreign government—he wouldn’t say which—was reading his emails. This was another reminder that there could be no safe zone, no such thing as an unplugged candidate. “The era of spontaneity in politics is over,” he declared, as I immediately wondered when it had started.
“I was talking to one of my political advisers,” Romney continued, “and I said: ‘If I had to do this again, I’d insist that you literally had a camera on me at all times”—essentially employing his own tracker, as opposition researchers call them. “I want to be reminded that this is not off the cuff.” This, as he saw it, was what got him in trouble at that Boca Raton fund-raiser, when Romney told the crowd he was writing off the 47 percent of the electorate that supported Obama (a.k.a. “those people”; “victims” who take no “personal responsibility”). Romney told me that the statement came out wrong, because it was an attempt to placate a rambling supporter who was saying that Obama voters were essentially deadbeats.
(Boldface accent added)
After all, is he not daring the media to scorch him for virtually any “off the cuff” gaffe should he run again?
Or maybe that is the point: Does the media cover Mitt Romney because it is fun?
Given the breadth of potsherds littering the 2014 midterm election, one might wonder why reporters and pundits might take time out of their day to give Mitt Romney the attention he needs in order to exploit him. But other presidential frontrunners have flamed out, and while, yes, to the one there is the bit about Romney possibly running in order to save the GOP from itself, there is to the other the question of whether that is even possible, and thus the idea that he gets some attention because all the other clowns are busy cleaning smears of nuttery off their costumes.
Between indictments and plagiarism scandals and all the rest, though, perhaps there is a reason why Republicans sometimes tend to think it’s all a matter of packaging.
But what of Romney? Has he a package he thinks he can sell? And can he sell it? That is, if he avoids the Kinsley gaffes and binders full of women, and, you know, maybe at least pretend to have a clue what he’s talking about, will that be enough? Or will he have to find a new product, a better platform?
These seem but a few of the real questions facing the proposition of another Romney run. And if we lack substantial answers, why take Romney seriously, or, at the very least, pretend to? It almost seems like some would egg him on just for the spectacle.
And, yeah, you know? That’s kind of mean.
Maddow, Rachel. “Romney routine lying illustrated in Etch A Sketch gaffe”. The Rachel Maddow Show. msnbc. 21 March 2012.
Corn, David. “Romney routine lying illustrated in Etch A Sketch gaffe”. Mother Jones 30 September 2014.
Leibovich, Mark. “Mitt Isn’t Ready to Call It Quits”. The New York Times Magazine. 30 September 2014.
Serwer, Adam. “Romney Didn’t Know What the Blunt Amendment Was”. Mother Jones. 29 February 2012.