WASHINGTON So the Republican presidential contender, eager to show off more than gubernatorial experience, travels overseas to bolster his foreign policy credentials. Then, in a TV interview, he blurts out a shockingly ill-considered, if undeniably true, observation that snowballs until the poor guy collapses into an international punch line.
It was a vertiginous fall for George Romney, who, while running for president in 1967, asserted that generals and diplomats had given him “the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get” when he toured Vietnam two years earlier.
And it was painful for Mitt, who had to watch his father’s epic gaffe from afar, while he was over in France struggling to drum up a few Mormon converts.
In their book “The Real Romney,” Michael Kranish and Scott Helman quoted Mitt’s sister Jane as saying the episode deeply affected Mitt: “He’s not going to put himself out on a limb. He’s more cautious, more scripted.”
That’s when Mitt began to build his own sterile biosphere, shaping his temperament and political career to make sure he never stumbled into such a costly moment of candor.
Even though the Mormon doesn’t drink coffee, he has measured out his life in coffee spoons, limiting access to reporters, giving interviews mostly to Fox News, hiding personal data, resisting putting out concrete policy proposals, refusing to release tax returns, trimming his conscience to match the moment. But somehow he ended up making the same unforced error that his dad did.
Even as he angled to appear Anglo-Saxon and obsequiously vowed to restore the bust of Churchill to the Oval Office, Mitt condescended to the nation that invented condescension. The Brits swiftly boxed his ears for his insolence and foul calumny.
Conservatives in London oozed scorn. Mayor Boris Johnson mocked “a guy called Mitt Romney,” and Prime Minister David Cameron suggested it was easier to run an Olympics “in the middle of nowhere.” Fleet Street spanked “Nowhere Man” and “Mitt the Twit.”
The alarming thing about Romney is that he has been running for president for years, but he still doesn’t know how to read a room.
In the Mitt-sphere, populated by his shiny white family, the Mormon Church and a narrow, homogenous inner circle, Romney’s image of himself as wise, caring, smart and capable is relentlessly reinforced. That leaves him constantly surprised that other people don’t love what he is saying.
As a candidate, he’s expected to stoop to conquer, to play a man of the people. But he really wants voters to know that he earned $250 million. So he keeps blurting out hoity-toity stuff to make sure we know he’s not hoi polloi – about his friends who are NASCAR owners or his wife’s Cadillacs.
In his interview with Brian Williams in London, Romney couldn’t resist giving himself the laurels for saving the Salt Lake City Games by analyzing whether the British ones were off by a hair, or a hire.
Then he tried to scamper back to the obligatory common-man script and ended up looking clumsy.
Romney programmed himself into a robot, so he wouldn’t boil over with opinions and convictions, like his more genuine dad.
But if we’re going to have someone who’s removed, always struggling to connect and emote, why not stick with the president we already have?