This week, the Romney campaign earned itself some plaudits after releasing a rather evocative new advertisement, called "Bump In The Road."
While there are ways the spot can be attacked on the margins (Mitt Romney said "bump in the road" once!) and on substance (Does Mitt Romney have standing to critique anyone's job creation efforts?), it's still a brutal attack ad that hits right at the heart of the nation's ongoing unemployment crisis. And the central metaphor is a good one: The unemployed are being treated as abstractions, but they are real people.
Another point of success for the ad: The one thing that tends to annoy people about Mitt Romney never appears in the video -- Mitt Romney. People recognize that guy as someone who invests his passion in PowerPoint presentations, straps his dog to the roof of his car on vacation, and walks around thinking that he's some great humorist. That's the guy who showed up at Blake's Creamery in Manchester, N.H., and, well, Dana Milbank very deftly captures the awkwardness:
Mitt Romney, the leading contender to become President Obama's Republican opponent next year, had just finished working the room at Blake's Creamery here when he paused for a photo with the restaurant's owner, Ann Mirageas, and decided to tell her a joke.
"I saw the young man over there with eggs Benedict, with hollandaise sauce," he said. "And I was going to suggest to you that you serve your eggs with hollandaise sauce in hubcaps. Because there's no plates like chrome for the hollandaise."
The proprietor laughed weakly. "Good luck to you," Mirageas said.
A lot has been written about Mitt Romney's inability to tell a joke. You'd think he'd get the hint and quit doing it. But Mitt keeps soldiering on, and why not? He's essentially fallen upward into the frontrunner position by dint of finishing second in 2008. And just when you think he's going to hit a (sorry!) "bump in the road," like a debate full of rivals that could have benefited from trying to take him on directly, he lucks out and everyone shrinks from the attack.
I've said it before -- Mitt Romney is basically Michael Scott from "The Office" come to life and given a campaign war chest. As Milbank points out, like Scott, Romney has hilarious struggles trying to connect with people:
His struggle to make chitchat with the diner patrons pleaded "regular guy" almost as much as his endorsement on the "Today" show of the "Twilight" vampire series. To a man wearing a "Joe Gauci Landscaping" T-shirt: "You do some landscaping work?" To two older women who just came from the gym: "Are your knees, hips doing okay?" To an old married couple: "You know each other?" Romney seemed to be auditing one man: "What's happened to your financials the last couple of years?"
And as David Weigel highlights, Romney is a lot like Michael Scott in that the faith that some people invest in him is often misguided:
He sits down briefly with Ashley DelPidio, a college student who'd just nailed down a job after putting her resume on CareerBuilder.
"How is it for other people in your class," asks Romney.
"Not everyone is lucky," she says.
After Romney leaves I check in with her; she, too was impressed. "I could see myself voting for him," she says. "Obama made a lot of promises and he hasn't kept all of them." What would she want President Romney to do that Obama hasn't? "The government needs to help people more when it comes to finding jobs. I think we could use more federal aid, or a federal program for people who are unemployed."
What seems to be lost on this voter is that Mitt Romney is not running for the nomination of the party that believes in "federal programs for people who are unemployed."
And, in this web video from the Romney campaign, we see the candidate driving around Detroit, feeling sad about it, and the spot is shot in the same faux-documentary style as"The Office." (Watch the video carefully, by the way. The city of Detroit is often the subject of cheap "ruin porn," in which reporters skydive into the city to get some evocative images of derelict buildings. Romney's campaign put so little effort into their video that you'll see Romney drive by the same burnt-out house twice.)
The Michael Scott persona is not one that Romney seems likely to shed anytime soon. But lest you think I'm underestimating the man, I will say that Michael Scott has always demonstrated the uncanny ability to catch a break, just when he needs one.