A lot of people are assuming that Mitt Romney is going to have some trouble in the general election because the mainstream press has decided he’s the new Al Gore. See, for instance, Dana Milbank:
Romney, the conservative writer Jonah Goldberg argued this week, has an “authentic inauthenticity problem.”
And that is precisely why his struggle is so familiar. He is the political reincarnation of Al Gore, whose campaign I covered with an equal amount of cringing a dozen years ago.
To see Romney, in his Gap jeans, laughing awkwardly at his own jokes and making patently disingenuous claims, brings back all those bad memories of 2000: “Love Story.” Inventing the Internet. Earth tones. Three-button suits. The alpha male in cowboy boots. The iced-tea defense. The Buddhist temple. The sighing during the debate.
But are we sure this is going to stick? It’s true that every so often the press decides that a Democrat is the cool one and the Republicans are the clowns — but that usually requires a Republican foil who’s perceived as a massive screw-up (Poppy Bush going into ’92, Gingrich going into ’96, W going into 2008). Republicans are destroying America and running a do-nothing, all-stonewall Congress, but they don’t have an aura of failure, exactly — nihilism, yes, but not failure.
Without something like that, doesn’t the Republican presidential candidate generally get the benefit of the doubt? See, e.g., 1988, 2000, 2004?
I think Romney is slowly going to be un-Gored by the media. I think the un-Gore-ing is going to read something like the second paragraph of this David Brooks passage from today:
Mitt Romney is never going to be confused for Pericles on the stump. Every sigh and utterance is prescripted, so watching his rallies is like watching the 19,000th performance of the road show of “Cats.” And he has terrible reaction responses. When somebody else is talking and he means to show agreement, he mugs like someone from a bad silent movie. His wife, Ann, is much warmer and more natural on stage.
But Romney’s awkwardness seems to endear him to audiences, because he’s trying so hard. He spends an enormous amount of time after the speeches shaking hands, taking pictures and holding babies. Beads of sweat form on his forehead as he throws himself graciously into the crowds. He also has a nice startle response. When something unexpected happens, his face lights up and you get a burst of happy humanity out of him.
Translation: Yeah, he’s awkward, but underneath that he’s a real person! And there’s actually something kind of appealing about his style — he’s not slick! He’s not one of those political slicksters! Not like certain Kenyan Muslim socialists I could name! He’s just a sincere guy trying to do the best he can without the natural gifts slick pols use to pull the wool over our eyes!
Maybe this won’t happen. Maybe the press will continue to think Romney is Gore; maybe the press still thinks Obama is LeBron. But I don’t think the latter has been true for a long time. And while Maureen Dowd can write a year’s worth of columns based on the premise that both of these guys are pathetic (Dowd on Sunday: “If Obama is Spock, Romney is the Tin Man”), the rest of the Beltway press usually needs one winner and one loser. I wouldn’t bet the house on Obama getting the winner slot.