Romney On the Stump

by Jonah Goldberg

The first rule of politics is to stay out of the way when your opponent is destroying himself. I wish Romney had taken that advice to heart before responding to Obama’s “the private sector is doing fine” comment. Why fuel the Democrats talking point by sounding like you have a specific animus for firefighters, cops and teachers? I understand — or at least I think I do — what Romney was trying to say. Democrats use firefighters, cops, and teachers as props for big government. Cutbacks in local government spending never trim bureaucrats and waste, they cut desperately needed “first responders.” It’s  analogous to the phenomenon that requires the Washington Monument to be shut down the second the federal government cuts spending — or even cuts the rate of increased spending. He could have made that point rather than assuming everyone understands the code. But even better would have been to say nothing at all. Second-best would have been to repeat as dryly as possible (more on this in a moment) the long parade of horribles about the private sector and then say — again dryly — “that’s what the president means by doing fine.” Instead, he came very close to turning a home-run moment into a triple.

Now, about this dryness thing. The conventional wisdom is that Romney is too stiff, too unemotional, too distant. And the conventional wisdom is right!

But, the remedy isn’t for Romney to fake being looser and more emotional than he is if he can’t pull it off. When Romney says “Can you believe it?” about this Obama gaffe or that Obama position, he’s almost animatronic in his passion. I really wish Romney would just own his personality. He’s not unlikeable. Rather than look enviously at politicians like Bill Clinton or Chris Christie and try to mimic them, he should try to work more fluidly with his own persona. My advice: Be dry. Dry is different than boring or unfunny. George Will and Charles Krauthammer, for instance, can be incredibly dry and incredibly funny. 

Again, I suppose it’d be better if Romney were better at emoting and empathizing, but trying and failing is worse than not trying at all. It doesn’t seem like much of a problem now because Obama has had such a bad June so far. But times will get better for Obama again. Or at least you have to plan on that. If things continue to only get worse for Obama, then no one’s advice will really matter — so long as Romney doesn’t get in Obama’s way.

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