Craig Frucht | Road to November
Published: Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 18, 2012 07:09
After stumbling from one public relations crisis to the next through most of July, the Mitt Romney campaign found firmer footing in August. Between the infusion of human DNA that Rep. Paul Ryan brought to the ticket and increasingly troubling economic signs for President Barack Obama, Romney supporters had reasons to feel excited going into the Republican National Convention.
The problem is that Romney himself didn’t share that enthusiasm. For all the talk of the “enthusiasm gap” between Republicans and Democrats, most of the enthusiasm seems focused on removing Obama from the White House. Actually getting Romney inside it is just an afterthought — a convenient by−product of defeating the president.
The Romney campaign was looking to the convention to make his supporters genuinely excited about electing him to office. The focus of the event was on “humanizing” the top of the ticket, and Republicans believed that, once they’d done so, Romney would enjoy a convention bounce that would allow him to surpass Obama in the polls and carry all the momentum going into the fall.
The optimists of the party would tell you that Ann Romney’s speech, which was replete with heart−warming lines like “You can trust Mitt. He loves America,” endeared her husband to the electorate’s crucial swing voters.
But beyond demonstrating Romney’s commitment to his wife and children, most of the attempts to humanize him sounded rather hollow — and they were buried under a litany of red−meat−laced diatribes against the Obama administration from the rest of the convention speakers.
Unquestionably, the convention was a letdown for the Romney campaign. He came away with only a small bounce in his poll numbers, which was promptly erased by Obama’s much more substantial gains after the Democratic convention the following week.
Mike Huckabee, one−time Republican presidential also−ran and current talking face for the Fox News Network, illustrated Romney’s challenge when, by way of an endorsement, he compared the candidate to a sullen doctor.
“If you’ve just been diagnosed with a brain tumor,” he said, “you don’t care if your brain surgeon is a jerk.”
But this ignores the reality of what it’s like to suffer through medical appointments with unpleasant, disinterested doctors. No one wants to be treated with disdain at the hospital. The fact that the doctor in question will be drilling through the patient’s skull does not make the experience any more desirable.
I also don’t think it’s an accurate characterization of what makes Romney so difficult to relate to. Romney’s problem isn’t that he’s mean or disinterested or “a jerk.” It’s that his whole being drips with insincerity, right down to the automatic way he chuckles when his natural impulse to laugh fails to kick in. It’s not that he makes the American people feel angry; it’s that he makes them feel awkward. He’s like some unfortunate combination of Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (1987−1994) and Gabe from “The Office,” except without the latter’s humor or the former’s problem−solving skills.
And Romney only added to his problems this week with his opportunistic comments in the wake of the death of four American diplomats in Libya. By directing criticism at the Obama administration before Stevens’ next of kin had even been notified of his death, Romney did irreparable damage to his likability numbers, to say nothing of the impact on his foreign policy credentials — more on this next week.
September once looked so promising for Romney. Stubbornly high unemployment and widespread economic malaise were supposed to make this easy for the Republicans, and they were supposed to leave convention season amid a surge of momentum.
Instead, they’re playing catch−up and looking to October’s debates to do what the convention could not: make Americans feel excited about Mitt Romney.
Craig Frucht is a senior majoring in psychology. He can be reached at Craig.Frucht@tufts.edu.