THE STUMP NOVEMBER 30, 2011
When my new cover story went up online Monday, I was gratified by the range of responses, and slightly amused by those that questioned the article's premise, that Mitt Romney has himself a bit of a temper. Come on, some readers said, everyone gets hot once in a while; for Romney to have had a handful of temperamental episodes, is that really any different than anyone else? Well, sure, but...do most people's moments of temper lead to 1) a disorderly conduct arrest 2) a curse-filled exchange with a cop and security contract employee that leads to a police report and police captain's demand for apology and 3) a physical altercation that leads to a hip-hop star being ejected from an airplane? Do most people's outbursts become such a recurring phenomenon that their own sons invent a name for them? The article was not suggesting that Romney has a true anger management problem or a volcanic temper on the scale of, say, John McCain; in fact, it made clear that he rarely erupted when dealing with people he perceived as his equals. No, the piece only suggested that Romney's personality was more complicated than the caricature of him as a fully-programmed robot made him out to be -- whether or not these episodes make him more or less personally appealing is in the eye of the beholder. It was almost as if some readers worried that the description of these episodes would humanize Romney in a way that could benefit him; Kevin Drum went so far as to suggest that he simply did not want to have to give up the frame we'd all put Romney in -- the flip-flopping phony -- for another. The general reaction was a classic demonstration of the stubborn strength of the boxes that the media creates for political figures -- if Al Gore was a self-aggrandizer, then the media would inflate things like his Love Canal or Internet claims; if Romney's a flip-flopper, the media will seize on his shifts, while downplaying aspects of his personality that don't fit that box.
I figured I would just wait until the next moment when Romney got hot under the collar to make my case. Well, it didn't take long. In his newly released interview with Fox News, Romney gets decidedly testy in a way that suggests, again, that it's quite easy to provoke this particular robot. And some sharp-eyed commentators are taking note. From today's First Read: "...His discipline is what has separated him from Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry. But is there a point when a candidate becomes over-disciplined? Indeed, nearly every time Romney has been challenged on a topic other than the economy and President Obama (like his own record or debate protocol), it appears to get under his skin."
A couple final thoughts on this. First, it was amusing that the same morning my piece went up, Time's Jay Newton-Small had a new piece up noting that neither Romney nor Obama are well situated to capitalize on the electorate's ire right now because both lack an "anger gene." I actually agree with this and don't think it contradicts my piece. What I'm describing is Romney's very personal sensitivity in certain moments that leads to what his sons call his "Mitt-frontations" and what an opposing campaign official calls his "Mitt-fits." This sort of anger or pique does not extend to the more oratorical, theatrical outrage that someone like Chris Christie is so good at conjuring up for crowds. There's nothing populist about Romney's temper; far from it, as it is often directed at the people he deems beneath him who have dared to challenge him.
Secondly, I'll include here a couple other examples of Romney's temper that I was made aware of after my piece appeared. First is this clip from 2007, when Romney gets hot (justifiably so, some might say) with a conservative Iowa talk-show host questioning his pro-life bona fides. Then there's this long-ago clip of Romney flaring up in a 1994 debate with Teddy Kennedy -- the way his voice rises rapidly to a full shout, of the sort one almost never sees in debates, reminded me instantly of Romney's full-throated hollers at Rick Perry during the Las Vegas debate last month.