MoDo has questions. In “Will They Decipher the Cipher?” she wonders if, stuck between a rock and a hard race, will Mitt Romney be bold or boulder? Ms. Collins also has a question. In “Renovating Mitt Romney” she asks do you feel as if you’ve met a new, improved, more lovable Mitt, people? If not, the Republicans failed completely. Here’s MoDo:
Mitt Romney doesn’t elicit passion, as Ronald Reagan did in Detroit. Or respect, as Poppy Bush did in New Orleans. Or excitement, as W. did in Philadelphia. Or admiration, as John McCain did in St. Paul.
The emotion he evokes is pity. Romney slogged and spent his way to the G.O.P. convention his dad craved for himself only to find that his role is not so much leading man as forgotten man.
Following an adulatory promotional video about himself, Chris Christie splashed in the Narcissus pool, giving a preening keynote speech that gassed on for 1,800 words and 16 minutes before he even deigned to mention “our actual nominee,” as Sarah Palin sardonically put it on Fox News.
Christie, who has already said he may run in 2016 if Romney loses, urged “sacrifice” and “tough choices” even though the blurry Romney beckons with an all-you-can-eat buffet of defense spending and tax cuts.
When TV cut away to Mitt in the hall to capture what should have been a thrilling moment, he looked as though his jelled skull might burst into flames.
He must have been fuming over why his high-priced mercenaries, who vetted Christie’s speech two weeks ago, failed to ask the New Jersey governor to cool it on the solipsism. In a conflict of consultants, the Romney adviser who’s helping run the convention, Russ Schriefer, is a once (and future?) Christie strategist.
Do Romney’s consultants, like some other conservatives here, have a thinly veiled disdain for an animatronic aristocrat who insists on being in a business he has no business in?
This synthetic convention aches with the enormity of the effort involved in trying, and failing, to make Mitt alluring and compelling, the fruitless, endless hunt for the enigma code that will decipher the cipher.
It’s absurd that Romney is still working tirelessly to show who he is given that he has spent the past six years running for president. Ann Romney was straining so hard to come up with heartwarming, personal anecdotes about Mitt and her family, she actually hit on one with CBS News about her son mourning her miscarriage that a startled Mitt said he had never heard.
Even when conservatives try to defend Romney, they manage to insult him.
“If you’ve just been diagnosed with a brain tumor,” Mike Huckabee told Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast, “you honestly don’t care if your neurosurgeon is a jerk.”
David Brooks of The Times mocked press critiques of Romney, but the satire slashed the candidate, too: “Romney owns many homes without garage elevators and the cars have to take the stairs.”
If conservatives think Reagan is a candidate for Mount Rushmore, Romney brings to mind a Sisyphean rock.
As Bill Kristol put it on Fox News, hailing Paul Ryan as Romney’s savior: “It feels less like a couple of hundred people in Boston working very hard to kind of push the boulder up the hill and more like a genuine exciting cause.” (Mitt’s dad urged him to “be bold,” not boulder.)
Charles Krauthammer dryly suggested on Fox News that to be more likable, Romney should go out on stage with the dog that he had on the roof of the car and have the dog endorse him right there … Seamus and Mitt.” (Except Seamus is dead, and Mitt is struggling to prove he’s alive.)
Romney is seen more as maître d’ than nominee, ushering the party to a better table in the future. In Politico, conservatives referred to the placeholder Mitt as a transitional figure and “an ideal segue.”
When Mitt awkwardly came out on stage at the end of Ann’s speech in what was supposed to be a crescendo, the room went flat. The few ripples of excitement in the Ward Cleaver-Betty Crocker convention with the generic music and anesthetized delegates have centered on younger 2016 prospects.
On the convention floor Tuesday night, Rick Perry told Chuck Todd of NBC News that he would “absolutely” consider running in 2016.
On “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart hailed Marco Rubio as “Charisma Boy,” saying it was good that Marco had dodged the problem of being Mitt’s running mate because, if he wins, “it would have been uncomfortable for you to run against him in 2016.”
After Condi Rice, glamorous in a salmon suit, impressed the crowd Wednesday night, Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic and GQ tweeted: “OK, HRC v. Condi in 2016 is on.”
And, of course, there was the evening’s main course and future, Ryan, who brought the zombie convention alive with a zowie speech — building up Romney and tweaking him about what’s on his iPod, “which I’ve heard on the campaign bus and on many hotel elevators.”
Ryan’s deft speech conjured the president’s nightmare — that disillusioned voters might decide it’s time to try something new.
Now here’s Ms. Collins:
So, about Mitt Romney.
The Republicans have been holding a convention to nominate him for president! I am telling you this on the off chance that you haven’t been paying attention. Perhaps you feel as if you’ve already met Mitt Romney and don’t require another introduction. Perhaps you feel as if you’ve met him a lot. But this is entirely different because the party’s mission this week is to construct an entirely new, improved, warmer, more lovable version.
They built this Romney!
“We built it” is one of the themes here, at the government-underwritten convention in a government-subsidized convention center in a city that rose on the sturdy foundation of government-subsidized flood insurance. But no taxpayer dollars were expended in the attempt to put together a New Mitt.
None. Really, it was just private corporations and rich people.
Even before the speeches began, before Tim Pawlenty compared the president to a tattoo or the governor of Ohio, John Kasich, accused Joe Biden of being a bad golfer, the magnitude of the Romney renovation challenge was clear. This wasn’t going to be one of those quickie home makeovers you see on TV, where a couple goes away for the weekend and comes back to discover that they have a large, new picture window and a totally open kitchen floor plan.
The folks who spoke during the first two days of the three-day convention were supposed to do foundation work, preparing the public to regard the presidential candidate who emerged on Thursday night as a kindly dad or a favored sibling who’s always such great company when you’re feeling down.
They failed completely. It was as if, instead of fixing up the targeted house, the renovators decided to do some engine work on a recreational vehicle parked three blocks down the road.
Some of the speakers tried to divert the crowd with fancy rhetoric. Who will ever forget the way Paul Ryan said America was getting the runaround and needs a turnaround?
Some tried being counterintuitive. Mike Huckabee, in an interview before his speech, compared Mitt to a nasty doctor. “If you’ve just been diagnosed with a brain tumor, you honestly don’t care if your neurosurgeon is a jerk,” he told Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast.
The challenge of giving their presidential candidate a heartwarming back story was apparently too much for many of the speakers, who decided to describe their own humble roots instead. Gov. Chris Christie talked about his mother. Ryan brought up his father, mother and grandmother. Rick Santorum told the story about his coal miner grandfather’s hands again. Huckabee dropped the names of his grandchildren.
We may never figure out the inner life of the Republican presidential candidate. But we are going into the fall campaign knowing a whole lot more about the relatives of major Republican office holders.
Ann Romney, poor woman, was left stuck with the entire burden of the convention’s yearning for a candidate remake. It turns out that her grandfather was a coal miner, too! It is possible that the only person in the entire city of Tampa this week who does not have a coal miner in the family tree is Mitt.
“Tonight I want to talk to you about love,” she said. The critical point was that Ann loves Mitt and Mitt loves America. What could be better than that? Then, half an hour later, Governor Christie decreed that respect trumps love. If these people can’t even decide where love ranks on their to-do list, you can appreciate why they found it impossible to get together to build a new presidential candidate.
Although she was assigned to paint a picture of the Mitt Romney we have never seen and suspect does not exist, his wife’s remarks were remarkably short on specifics. She did have a story about their humble early married life, which involved a brief period in college when they were forced to consume “a lot of pasta and tuna fish.”
Ann assured the crowd that her husband had spent “countless hours helping others,” and although that was pretty vague, we do have other accounts of his good deeds, mainly for fellow parishioners at church. She also seemed intent on telling us that he’s a fun guy, full of Mittwit, but she failed to provide any examples of fun that were actually funny. The take-away image of Mitt Romney, Neighbor, was less George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” than Ned Flanders in “The Simpsons.”
The best humanizing story about a robotic presidential candidate I can remember was the one John Kerry’s daughters told about how Kerry had saved their hamster Licorice from a “watery doom” by diving off a dock, retrieving the animal and administering CPR. And, actually, that didn’t work out so well.
They’ll make do with what they’ve got. One thing’s for sure: nobody in Tampa is all that interested in talking about Mitt Romney interacting with pets.