On my radio show, my co-host Don Reese and I have talked a few times in recent weeks about just how bad Mitt Romney has turned out to be at campaigning, with some surprise. Speaking of all the gaffes, Don wondered where Mitt’s handlers are as he commits gaffe after gaffe. But as we’ve found out with the etch-a-sketch comment, his handlers are turning out to be just as bad.
Even before the primary began, the assumption was that Romney’s campaign was better funded, better organized and run by serious professionals with a plan to win. He’d gotten essentially a four-year headstart on the campaign, while his opponents — other than Ron Paul, who also had a big organization but whose goal was something other than winning the nomination — were running on shoestring budgets with small, inexperienced staffs and virtually no presence in many key states. As Santorum has stepped into the role of the primary not-Romney in the face, he’s had to scramble to put together an organization in nearly every state.
But money and organization are one thing; you still have to be good at campaigning, and Mitt has been abysmal at it. He’s committed one gaffe after another, constantly bringing up how rich and disconnected he is from the reality of most Americans. And it really does make you wonder what’s going on inside the campaign. Did he offer that $10,000 bet to Rick Perry on his own or was that discussed ahead of time and planned out in discussions with his advisers? Almost nothing said in a “debate” is ad libbed, especially when, as in that situation, it was a line of attack that he’d heard again and again. Campaigns plot out exactly how to respond to the expected attacks by their opponents, and Perry had been talking about what Romney’s book said about health care reform repeatedly before that debate. So did Romney go rogue with that bet or was it planned and intentional? We have no way of knowing now, but if Romney loses this fall you can bet that someone will write a book about the campaign and reveal the truth.
And now we have the etch-a-sketch comment, which has observers wondering whether it was intentional. If it was, if it was planned out, it was world-class stupid. Andrew Sullivan is spot on:
It sums up every single worry about Romney in one metaphor: that he is a machine, that he can say or stand for anything, and that, from time to time, depending on which segment of the population he is appealing to, he will simply become something completely different. Which is, of course, per Kinsley, the true definition of a gaffe. Fehrnstrom told the truth. And Etch-A-Sketches, because they can draw anything and remove anything, are also a perfect metaphor for liars, opportunists and soulless re-invention.
Weigel does even better:
With this quote, Romney guru Eric Fehrnstrom has scored a cleaner hit on his candidate than Rick Santorum ever has.
So is that highly paid, professional team just that bad? Or can they just not control their candidate? I tend to believe the latter. But as I said on my show recently, there’s a sense in which Mitt’s inauthenticity is, ironically, authentic. He really is the perpetual suck-up, the sycophant, the used-car salesman telling you whatever he thinks it will take to get you behind the wheel of the car. He really is that awkward with people, especially people who aren’t filthy rich.