In "Humanizing" Mitt, An Unintended Echo

by Alec MacGillis | December 12, 2011

Politico reports that Mitt Romney, seeking to reboot amid the resurgence of Newt Gingrich, is now "engaged in a humanizing effort" after months in which he framed himself as an impersonal fix-it man for a broken economy:

Meet Mitt Romney, human. In the past 24 hours, the former Massachusetts governor has talked about his father, experiences while working as a missionary that weren’t even in his memoir — and twice in two days, he’s brought up the Mormon faith that he’s until now largely steered clear of. For a candidate who’s developed a reputation for stiffness after years spent focusing on his professional background and business expertise, it’s a sizable rhetorical pivot — and one that coincided with a renewed effort by his GOP rivals and Democrats to make an issue of his personal wealth following the the awkward $10,000 bet he offered Rick Perry during Saturday night’s debate.

This has included conjuring up some details that might edge into too-much-information territory:

“Most of the apartments I lived in had no refrigerators,” Romney told a crowd of 300 at a VFW hall here Sunday afternoon, launching into a long anecdote about life as a Mormon missionary in France that touched on the difficulties of shopping before every meal and living in buildings without a shower. “If we were lucky, we actually bought a hose and we stuck it on the sink, and we’d hold there with the hose and the big bucket underneath us in the kitchen and wash ourselves that way...And so, I lived in a way that people of lower-middle income in France lived and said to myself, ‘Wow, I sure am lucky to have been born in the United States of America." ... A number of the apartments I lived in when I lived there didn’t have toilets...We had instead the little pads on the ground, OK? You know how that works, all right. There was a chain behind you with a bucket — it was a bucket affair. I had not experienced one of those in the United States.”

Leave aside for now, though, the matter of French sanitation in the late 1960s. Doesn't this remind you of someone else, this sudden turn toward "humanizing" a front-runner who was running as an all-business automaton until facing an unexpected challenge as the first primaries neared?

Ah yes, this person, who made this same pivot at exactly the same moment in the last cycle:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign for president has undergone a dramatic change of direction in recent days, with the brainy, policy-oriented focus of most of the past 11 months giving way abruptly to an attempt to focus on Clinton’s human side.
 The shift began, unheralded, when 88-year-old Dorothy Rodham picked her way onto stage at a Des Moines, Iowa, high school on Dec. 7. It continued with an ad in which Rodham, Clinton’s rarely-seen mother, testified that her daughter is a “good person.” And it intensified Monday with the release of a set of videos in which old friends talk about her personality and her foibles under the rubric, “The Hillary I know."... Clinton’s communications director Howard Wolfson ... portrayed the change of gears as a result of the campaign’s success on policy issues. “Voters know Sen. Clinton will do the best job reforming health care and getting us out of Iraq. They know she has the most experience,” he told Politico. “Now they want to know what motivates her.”

Now we'll just have to see whether Romney can provoke a "you're likable enough" remark from Newt, and muster some tears in a New Hampshire diner...

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/the-stump/98420/in-humanizing-mitt-unintended-echo