It should be the easiest thing in the world for a presidential nominee: a trip to England . . . And yet, Mitt Romney managed to alienate just about every living Briton. The Sun even went so far as to dub him “Mitt the Twit.” It was an astonishing faux pas—one of many packed into his brief visit.
The episode highlights what’s really wrong with Romney. He’s kind of lame, and he’s really ... annoying. He keeps saying these ... things, these incredibly off-key things. Then he apologizes immediately—with all the sincerity of a hostage.
In 1987, this magazine created a famous hubbub by labeling George H.W. Bush a “wimp” on its cover. In hindsight, Poppy looks like Dirty Harry Callahan compared with Romney, who spent his war (Vietnam) in—ready?—Paris. Where he learned ... French. Up to his eyeballs in deferments. And did you notice that his wife Ann was the one driving the Jet Ski on their recent vacation, while Mitt rode on the back, hanging on, as Paul Begala put it to me last week, “like a helpless papoose”?
Romney is the genuine article: a true wimp. Oh, there are some ways in which he’s not—a wimp lets himself get kicked around, and Romney doesn’t exactly do that. He sure didn’t during the primaries, when he strafed Rick Perry and carpet-bombed Rick Santorum (but note that they were both weaker than he).
In some respects, he’s more weenie than wimp—socially inept; at times awkwardy ingratiating, at other times mocking those “below” him, but almost always getting the situation a little wrong, and never in a sympathetic way. The evidence resonates across too many years to deny. What kind of teenager beats up on the misfit, sissy kid, pinning him down and violently cutting his hair with a pair of school scissors—the incident from Romney’s youth that The Washington Post famously reported (and Romney famously didn’t really deny) back in May?
And what kind of presidential candidate whines about a few attacks and demands an apology when the going starts to get rough? And tries to sound tough by accusing the president who killed the world’s most-wanted villain of appeasement? That’s what they call overcompensation, and it’s a dead giveaway; it’s the “tell.” This guy is nervous—terrified—about looking weak. And ironically, being terrified of looking weak makes him look weaker still.
He’s the most risk-averse major politician to come along in ages. He accepted the job at Bain Capital only after wringing out of Bill Bain a promise that, if the venture failed, Mitt would be welcomed back to Bain & Co.—at his old levels of compensation and seniority—and that the press and public would be fed some happy talk about how it had all gone as intended. And why didn’t he leave Bain in 1999 to go run the Olympics, as he always said he had, but instead take his now-famous “leave of absence”? To have the option of coming back; to minimize the risk. Even his flip-flopping, his taking of positions all over the map, is a form of risk aversion, being all things to all people, able to placate any audience, never stuck out on a limb unable to satisfy.
Politicians change positions for three main reasons: financial ambition, political ruthlessness, and political cowardice. Romney already has the big money, so that’s out. Ruthless? Not really—a ruthless change of position is one designed to please one group of people but equally to piss off another group. Romney’s flip-flops are solely about making a group of highly suspicious voters like him. That, folks, is door No. 3.
In a similar vein, it was breathtaking, and a meaningful window into his thinking, that he thought denouncing “Obamacare” to the NAACP constituted courage. That was the opposite of courage—an easy shot aimed at people who aren’t voting for him anyway.
But if Romney is elected? Be nervous. A Republican president sure of his manhood had nothing to prove. Reagan was happy with a jolly little shoot-up in Grenada, and eventually he settled down to the serious work of arms control, consummating historic treaties with Mikhail Gorbachev. But a weenie Republican—look out. He has something to prove, needs to reassert that “natural” advantage. That spells trouble more often than not.
Monday, July 30, 2012
Newsweek Plays The "Wimp Card"
From Michael Tomaskey's devastating piece on Mitt Romney: