As the Republican primaries stumble to their increasingly disregarded denouement, Mitt Romney is firming up his support from the party establishment even as evidence of his lack of connection with rank and file voters continues to abound. Both the Washington Post and New York Times carried delightful pieces this week seeking out ardent admirers of Romney. Needless to say, this is about as easy as finding left-handed shortstops.
The Post’s David Fahrenthold did manage to dig up a few “Romniacs”—“the sasquatches of American politics: rumored, hoped-for, so elusive that they can seem imaginary.” He found a grandfather in Virginia who “set off crisscrossing the country in a 14-year-old truck” on Romney’s behalf; a woman in Arizona who was moved to write verse: “Mitt Romney is his name / He wants to help America / ‘Fix It’ is his game”; and a woman in Orem, Utah who in 2008 named her son “Mitt”—or rather, “Little Mitt.”
So far, so good. But then the search starts to take on a rather woeful cast.
The campaign has looked for [Romniacs], selling official “Mitt Romney Super Fan” T-shirts for $30 apiece. At last count, it had sold 346. Rick Santorum, by contrast, has sold 3,000 of his $100 souvenir sweater vests.
And, online, Romney fanatics can have trouble even finding one another. “Is anyone out there?” a user named Bob Riley wrote at Romniac.com in early March. A site administrator welcomed him. And then . . . nothing. For three weeks and two days, no other Romniacs answered his query.
And then there’s the sad case of the Romniac with a checkered past:
One of the stranger stories of Romney mania involves a man who called himself “Mike Sage.” Sage set up several Internet hubs for Romney fans: America Needs Mitt, MittFitts and Mitt Romney Radio, broadcasting online two hours every night. In a telephone interview last week, he told a Washington Post reporter that he admired Romney’s integrity, honesty and humility. “In a lot of ways, when I look at him, I see a better man than myself,” he said.
But further research revealed that Sage’s real name is Charles Michael Segaloff. In 2003, he pleaded guilty in Washington state to second-degree assault with sexual motivation. He is listed on the sex offender registry in Oklahoma. In an e-mail message Monday, after his real identity was unearthed, Segaloff said he would be “disengaging myself from [Mitt Romney Radio] for [the] good of all involved.”
Oh, dear. Then in today’s Times, Ashley Parker turns the lens the other way around, tracking down Romney admirers less for the sake of describing them but for capturing their own wishes for their beloved candidate: namely, that he do a better job of opening himself up to them:
The voters were pleading with Mitt Romney to share personal details of his life. They stood at town-hall-style meetings and chatted before rallies, clamoring for a story or an anecdote that would help them connect with the real Mitt Romney.
“I wish that you would speak more to a lot of the things that I think you should speak about — the fact that you were pastor at your church, the fact that you were a missionary, the fact that you do speak about helping with the Olympics,” Mary Toepfer, 40, of Warren, Ohio, said at a recent event.
Without these kinds of stories, she added, “it’s hard for us, who are trying to support you, to address them when trying to explain to them why you would be the better candidate.” Another voter, another day, spoke up in Bexley, Ohio, beseeching Mr. Romney to open up. “I’d like you to share with all the American citizens that are watching right now,” the man said, “to show the American people that you have a lot of heart.”
Parker quotes Romney aides who ascribe his emotional reticence to the fact that he “regards talking about himself as bragging.” Sorry, but I don’t buy this. Romney actually spends quite a lot of his stump speech bragging about himself—the central pitch of his candidacy is that he is a successful businessman and leader who is willing to bestow his gifts on a struggling country. No, what voters are missing in Romney’s pitch seems less to be the result of excess modesty than the result of two shortcomings I’ve written about often in recent weeks: his lack of a natural touch and his lack of material. Romney’s decision to spend his pre-political career making millions slicing and dicing companies has left him sorely short of stump-suited anecdotes such as Barack Obama’s tales of South Side organizing or John McCain’s Navy yarns. And when Romney has ventured into the personal realm, he has typically displayed a jarring lack of storyteller’s touch. The Romney campaign realizes this, which is why it has decided essentially to outsource Romney’s personal revelations:
Now, [Ann Romney] and other surrogates are trying to do the job that Mr. Romney seems uncomfortable, or unwilling, to do himself. On the stump, Mrs. Romney often talks of warm family moments, and she recently made two Web videos, filled with images and memories of the couple and their five sons. Garrett Jackson, a personal aide to Mr. Romney, has also been deployed to start a blog intended to offer a window into the candidate’s daily life.
Yeesh. It’s worth noting that this shortcoming is not necessarily fatal—George H.W. Bush, who officially endorsed Romney today, was not exactly a font of personal stories and did not exactly have legions of ardent admirers, and won the presidency anyway (against an equally lukewarm fellow.) And the economists and political scientists remind us that elections are decided by larger things than the quality of a candidate’s anecdotes. Still, a Romney victory this fall would truly be a remarkable feat for one who has left voters so cool in an era where political feelings have been running so hot.
follow me on Twitter @AlecMacGillis