The GOP: Not All ‘Suits’
Why is Romney stressing blandness, when his party is so interesting?


John O’Sullivan

Is Romney responding with sufficient toughness to Obama’s attacks? This seems to be the main topic of the day. But I’m more concerned with the question of why — according to Newsweek — the Romney campaign won’t be asking Sarah Palin to speak at the Republican convention. Come to that, why won’t the Romney campaign be asking Senator Santorum to speak at the convention?

Maybe they will ask both in the end. But if the campaign were thinking seriously about the GOP’s image, it would be begging both to turn up and deliver their liveliest vaudeville acts.

The problem facing the Republicans is not that they aren’t tough enough, but that they aren’t funny and odd and engaging and human enough. Look at the names thrown around for veep — Rob Portman, Tim Pawlenty, Bob McDonnell, earlier Mitch Daniels. All solid citizens, competent, workmanlike, equipped with impressive CVs, able to start on Day One, etc., etc. Each of them as an individual has a good life story to tell. Collectively, though, isn’t there something a little, well, similar about them? And when you add in the top of the ticket, Mitt Romney himself, they might be a final list of candidates for the presidency of the Acme Widget Corporation.

Richard Nixon used to say that Democrats couldn’t win with a cold fish at the head of the ticket — he was thinking of Senator Gary Hart, who sort of disproved this characterization quite quickly — but that the voters would usually tolerate a Republican candidate who was a cold fish. Indeed, they more or less expected Republicans to be cold fish; the GOP is the green-eyeshades party, after all. But Nixon was indulging in a mildly sarcastic put-down; he wasn’t offering a recipe for the ideal candidate. The Romney campaign this round, in its anxiety to play it safe, looks as if it’s advertising for the most presentable cold fish on the slab. This may produce a good vice-presidential candidate, but it won’t begin to dislodge the damaging media caricature of Republicans as Suits on stilts. Indeed, it will confirm the caricature.

What makes all this doubly frustrating is that this corporate parade doesn’t happen to be at all representative of the GOP. As someone who has reported politics across the U.S., I know from experience that the GOP is packed full of amusing, witty, and eccentric people with genuinely independent minds (and occasionally screwy panaceas). That’s why the early Republican debates last year were far more entertaining than the later ones. In addition to the eventual winner, they had Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all — and as a result they were impressive, entertaining, and good-natured, and had a lollipop of policy for almost everyone. Likewise, the nominations of potential veep candidates that are still rising up from the multitudes on the Corner testify to the variety (I won’t say diversity) of personalities on the right: Mighty Chris Christie, Singing Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio (the Latin Heartthrob), Bobby Jindal (Ask the Professor), and Nikki Haley (the Vanishing Lady). Okay, maybe Romney has made his choice already — say it’s Portman — but it would do no harm to leak these other names as being “under consideration” in order to boost them and to remind the voters that Republicans aren’t all Suits.