I am not a political analyst, but I try to notice what politicians say and what is said about them. I have been intrigued by the nomination race for the Republican Party presidential candidate. What has struck me–and others–is how Mitt Romney, who seemed like a preferred candidate in the eyes of many, regularly manages to fumble the ball or become a highlight in a bloopers reel. I use a sporting analogy for a few reasons. One is new: I have just discovered that Mitt is the nickname given to the state of Michigan, because the state is shaped like a mitten. Another is that I think great or very good politicians are like star athletes (or star performers, in general): you tend to expect them to be able to ‘play’ well in all situations–in terms of skills, you do not expect them to make lots of mistakes if they are to stay long in the game. Like the star athlete, reducing errors, mistakes, or misplays matters a lot more than making spectacular plays. You also expect them to reduce the distance between their best and worst days–in other words, they should not be spiky (or erratic). That tendency to be erratic is often thrown by opponents as a criticism of Newt Gingrich. A few things struck me about Mr. Romney over the past week.
Consistent performer? You do not expect star performers to change the way they play too much: you stick with what got you to where you are. In politics, the tendency to flip-flop is often an accusation that sticks. Mr. Romney has the tendency, but so too do some of his opponents, such as Rick Santorum on birth control. Let’s call this consistency. Keen observers of sports will notice when an athlete changes something about their usual match performance: it often happens during a period of inconsistent performance and may herald more inconsistency while the player rediscovers successful form. A player may need a period of intense retraining in order to enhance performance–look at a tennis player’s service, or a batter’s stance in baseball or cricket, or a golfer’s putting stroke. When it happens on the fly, it usually leads to a drop in performance. Mr. Romney, rather then being the pillar of consistency, looks often as inconsistent as those he seeks to criticise.
It’s the shoes? You should also notice when the ‘equipment’ changes–shoes, racket, bat, headgear, sweater vest, cowboy boots–because these are important parts of the whole. They each and all make the player comfortable. We should all know how it feels to break in new shoes, and how hard that can be on game day–better to use them in practice a little to wear off that newness and stiffness. How they wear their equipment also matters. I think these are amusing things to notice as differences between the candidates, but not game changers–unless a successful Mr. Santorum legislates that we all wear sweater vests.
It’s the hair? Does the physical appearance of the performer matter? The physical aspects of an adult change, but not that much–when mature, height is fixed, but weight could change and affect performance. In the Republican nomination race, I am not sure what the candidates look like has been a ‘game changer’, certainly once the field lost its non-white male challengers.
Ready for the big show? Another key to political success is how do you perform in front of the big audience. Wowing them in small bars or diners does not cut it as much as doing so in front of a packed auditorium, not least because it takes a lot of small venue performances to hit the same amount of eyes, hearts and minds as if doing the stuff on a bigger stage. That’s what really struck me in recent days when I have read about Mitt Romney. He seems to be using big audience appearances to destroy rather than bolster his credibility: he is looking like a choker. Accepting that a certain bias exists in the reports given by one media source, I take today’s report of Mr. Romney’s performance yesterday at Ford Field, Detroit, Michigan. The Washington Post states [my highlights] ‘But the event served up fresh evidence for Romney critics who say he can’t rise to the occasion and rally important elements of the GOP around his candidacy.’
Show the crowd some love. Mr. Romney does not seem to understand that having made his wealth, he keeps flaunting it in front of people who can only dream of the sums involved or do not need to be reminded that he and his family have made it big. ‘Romney strayed from his prepared remarks to note that he has four cars, including his wife’s “couple of Cadillacs” — casually reminding voters in this economically depressed state of his wealth.’ It’s part of a disturbingly casual sense of what money and financial and economic security means, and how in economically depressed areas such as Detroit this can only be a double poke in the eye–of the audience and of himself. Remember his casual $10,000 bet offer to Governor Rick Perry? Remember his liking to fire people? Remember tax avoidance schemes? Remember his not being concerned about the very poor? I’m sure those references call rolling back to many in the audience or who heard or read reports of the latest speech.
Not seeing his own problems. The Post mentions other commentators’ mention of ‘poor staging’ and ‘tepid response’. It is ironic that Mr. Romney is reported to have said of President Obama [again, my highlighting] “We have not seen a failure to communicate …We have seen a failure to lead, and that’s why I’m running for president.” But, if truth be told, Mr. Romney is failing to communicate in a major way.
To this casual observer, Mr. Romney seems to be getting more wrong than right, so cannot stand above his opponents, who are also getting wrong and right mixed up. If he’s come to play in the big time for THE prize, he had better figure out a way for those who matter to suggest that he drop down to minor league play.