At times throughout the past year of campaigning, Mitt Romney has appeared to be an authentic human being, even a confident leader not afraid to speak his mind and willing to back his rhetoric with action. Unfortunately for Romney, these were some of the lowest points of his campaign.
Perhaps the best example of the non-automaton Romney came in December when he went completely off-script during a debate in Iowa. When Rick Perry claimed that Romney had revised his own book to remove a statement supporting an individual health care mandate, Romney saw an opening. The savvy business opportunist in him was wise enough to capitalize on the fallacious statement made by his opponent. It was both a chance to somewhat defend his irresolute policy stance and a chance to reprimand an adversary in front of a national audience.
The fact was, that while Romney may have supported an individual mandate in both Newsweek and USA Today, he did not explicitly do so in his own book as Rick Perry alleged. So Romney did what many normal Americans (working class, blue collar, etc.) do all the time when they believe they are in the right: he tried to profit from it with the “wanna-bet” strategy.
Some claim that his challenge to Perry made Romney look petty or immature. However, even if those adjectives fit, they are words used to describe living, breathing human beings, so in a sense the double-dog dare to Perry could have helped Romney. The problem is that the strategy backfired because Romney asked Perry to make a rich man’s bet of $10,000. Even though Romney would have won the bet, he ended up looking like the well-to-do elitist that he has never seemed to fully embrace—at least in not in public appearances. Private functions are a different story for Mitt Romney, and it was at one such function that the warm Romney charm was on full display.
It is often said that character and integrity can be judged based on what a person does when no one else is watching. Maybe the modern day measure of political candidates’ character could be what they say when they think no one is recording. For Romney, his infamous fundraising dinner in Florida was an opportunity for him to speak without the apprehension that comes with intense media scrutiny—at least it was supposed to be. It was supposed to be an opportunity to, as Ann Romney might say, “unzip him and let the real Mitt Romney out.”
But Mitt unzipped would have been much better off just zipping it.
Before the 47% video was released, people paying any attention had a pretty good idea on where Romney and the GOP stood in regards to the half of the country that relies on social security, Medicare, food stamps, etc. But it took a relaxed Romney, feeling at home around other super-wealthy people, to fully articulate his sentiments. Romney later tried to downplay his comments about America’s non-wealthy as “not elegantly stated,” and that is fine. America doesn’t need an elegant President anyway. As far as communication skills go, America could probably benefit from a President that can plainly communicate off the cuff the way Romney did at his fundraiser. However, the problem wasn’t the delivery; it was the content. Romney’s biggest problem isn’t that he exclusively appears genuine at $50,000 per plate fundraisers; it is that his assessment of Americans is genuinely concerning.
The Presidential debates will not likely help either candidate a great deal, but they do have the potential to damage either campaign with one major gaffe. If the contrived Romney shows up and regurgitates the talking points that he has rehearsed over the last few weeks, he can escape these debates unscathed. However, if Romney gets creative (i.e. human), his track record indicates that his campaign might just implode.