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Jason Stanford

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What If Mitt Can't Pander?

Posted: 03/21/2012 1:48 pm

It's possible we're not being fair to Mitt Romney. Really, would the stuff coming out of your mouth make any more sense if you had to spend a year traveling with Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich? I'm surprised the man's still speaking English. He must feel like the in-law on a family vacation, dying to go home so he can finally kick his dog in peace.

What we learned on our road trip through Alabama and in Mississippi was that not just that cheese grits are delicious. It was that Mitt Romney might be unfairly maligned as a panderer. He simply is unable to tell people what they want to hear. Windows Vista had fewer incompatibility problems than Romney does with regular folks.

The Atlantic's Molly Ball created a little controversy recently when she wrote a counterintuitive defense of Romney as a funny, self-deprecating guy whose jokes just fall flat on TV or in the newspaper. She marshaled first-hand accounts to buttress her claim that old Willard's "sense of humor is dark, dry, self-deprecating and a little subversive." Her piece was persuasive and well argued, and it almost convinced me. For a couple of days I wandered around confused, wondering whether Romney really wasn't funny after all.

But then Romney opened his mouth again and removed all doubt. The reason Romney comes across like a strange and awkward man probably has something to do with the fact that he's a strange and awkward man. This guy is the photo negative of King Midas, turning talking points into gaffes.

His idea of making small talk about the New England Patriots is to brag about his buddies who own the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins and then follow it up later by saying he's not filling out his March Madness bracket. And Republicans think Barack Obama's the foreigner?

After he went oh-fer in Alabama and Mississippi, Romney made his consultant Eric Fehrnstrom defend the campaign on CNN. Fehrnstrom must have intended this interview to be an early St. Patrick's Day celebration because of the abundance of blarney. When Anderson Cooper asked him to explain why Republican turnout was down across the country, Fehrnstrom gamely tried to answer but all he could come up with was that the economy was bad. Apparently Republicans can't afford to gas up their Cadillacs.

Fehrnstrom then tried to claim with an admirable attempt at sincerity that Romney, who spent $1.6 million in Alabama and in Mississippi, wasn't really trying to win.

"I don't think anybody expected Mitt to win Alabama or Mississippi," said Fehrnstrom.
There are many acceptable lies in politics, such as "Don't you look pretty in that bedazzled sweatshirt!" and "Thank you for your candor." But Fehrnstrom should know not to say things that are so easily disproven. Just one day before the Alabama primary, Romney said, "We're going to win tomorrow," though in retrospect, that might have been some of that subversive humor that Molly Ball wrote about.

Finally, Romney's advisory trotted out the line that they hope will become the conventional wisdom as the primary drags on: Santorum and Gingrich have no path to victory. But if you're losing to the guys who can't win, what does that say about your campaign?

It's as true that Santorum and Gingrich won't win the nomination as it is that Mitt Romney will win it. And even with Republicans citing electability as their top criteria, Romney--the Republicans' most electable candidate--can't close the deal even when he's outspending his rivals by a better than 2-to-1 margin. It's like Mitt Romney can't win a poker hand when everyone else has folded.

So the campaign trail leads on, and they promise it ends at the Republican convention in Tampa. Thank God Mitt Romney can stop pretending to care about the South. Now he can go back to pretending he cares about the rest of the country while the campaign bus rolls on. There is good news, though. We don't have to pretend to listen to crazy uncle Ron Paul anymore.

 
 
 

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