The Mitt Who Wasn’t There


Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a freelance journalist and blogger. He considers Bob Dylan and Walter Sobchak to be the two great Jewish thinkers of our time; he thinks Kafka was half-right when he said there was hope, "but not for us"; and he can be reached through the twitter via @eliasisquith or via email. The opinions he expresses on the blog and throughout the interwebs are exclusively his own.

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53 Responses

  1. Avatar North says:

    Mmmm nmmmm meh… I don’t think who the real Romney is is at all relevant. He’s demonstrated through a steady series of adjustments and transformations that he will shift to meet the demands of the moment. So we don’t need to know who or what he is since we understand that fact. As President Romney can safely be assumed to be a sock puppet to the GOP majority in the house (and or the Senate if it goes that well for him).

    Thus Mitt’s true feelings are irrelevant. If we want to know how he’ll be, what he’ll do and what he’ll press for as President simply figure out what his party will be, do and press for and you have your answer. Now in my opinion that’s enough to rule out voting for him by itself but obviously people to my right might honestly think otherwise.Report

    • Avatar Don Zeko says:

      This, coincidentally, is the reason that Barack Obama’s ‘real’ views on gun control don’t matter. (When it comes to domestic policy) Presidents do what their promises to their electoral coalition and congressional allies allow them to do. And whatever he really thinks, Romney is the head of a the Tea-Party-infused Republicans.Report

  2. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    Barack Obama stinks on ice. Would Mitt Romney be a worse Chief Executive? Mebbe, but I don’t see how a couple teleprompterless debates and even a billion dollars worth of ads can prove it.

    So Mitt’s quite right to avoid specifics at all costs.

    Roger that, Elias. Your most faithful reader said just the same in his worshipful reply to one of your other masterworks about Mitt just a few scant days ago.

    What does Romney need to do to win? In my view, perhaps nothing except avoid trainwrecks, and deflect, deflect, deflect. I think he’s crazy if he stands and fights any of these BS attacks. Bain is bullshit, the tax returns are bullshit, and the competing Ryan and Obama budgets are [charitably speaking] equally insufficient for dealing with our problems.

    Hence, I think it’s silly for Romney to let the Ryan plan take all the heat and let the equally bad [or worse] Obama plan get a free ride. Now, the press is gonna do just that, but again, Romney’s best strategy is not to stand and defend, but shift the spotlight back on the incumbent.

    As long as the Obama attacks are blahblah about numbers nobody’s listening to, and the ol’ granny down the stairs crap, Romney slips the noose. Only by standing and defending does Romney call down closer scrutiny onto the Ryan plan.

    From the first, the polls say Obama loses to a Generic Republican, and so I think Romney should not deviate from his so-far successful policy of strict non-specificity.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      Tom i don’t think you really want to learn but losing to a Generic doesn’t say all that much unless that generic is acutely running. Generic’s are a projection of what people want in a candidate not who the candidate is. In a tough economy being behind a generic is meaningless.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        You realize you just described Obama 2008.

        “‘Generics’ are a projection of what people want in a candidate not who the candidate is. ”

        Obama 2012 stinks on ice, provably. Mitt might stink worse but you can’t prove it.

        My view is that Gore blew a slam-dunk 2000 election by acting weird and talking class warfare. McCain blew a lead in the polls by “suspending” his campaign to return to Washington to deal with the meltdown.

        Americans don’t like “bold.” Bad things happen with “bold.” Reagan won by assuaging our fears, not by exciting our passions.

        I voted for McCain anyway b/c I knew Obama stinks on ice. But to this day, I will not argue that McCain would have made a better president. Dude’s wack.

        That’s my equation, Greg. Romney’s OK, no red flags.Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          acting weird???? umm yeah tom. gore couldn’t do weird if he tried. shame gore didn’t get as many votes as shrub though. well you know what i mean.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          Is “Obama stinks on ice” the new absurdist conservative meme? You’ve said it twice now in comments on an article that had a single passing reference to the President.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            Sorry, you’ve said it THREE times now. Two to one I hear that in Hannity today.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe says:

            It’s a fairly longstanding turn of phrase

            (and if you’re someone like Greenwald, you also agree with this characterization)Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              I stand corrected. It appears Tom has almost exclusively been using that phrase for a long time now.

              I’m still not sure why he’d lead off his comment with it in a post talking about Mitt Romney.

              Wait a minute… I now EXACTLY why he would. I withdraw my objection, nthe asshattery stands on its own merits.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Heh. It’s a personal little joke. I got it from libertarian Matt Welch. In April 2009.

                “Question to the folks, including some of the libertarian persuasion (you fools!), who were bullish on Obama back when the alternative was John McCain, the Terri Schiavo of presidential candidates: When are you going to admit that Barry O stinks on ice? ”

                You’re a pip, little Kazzy, but you need to find a different hobby.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                You mean it’s a personal refrain. That variety of Joke does not grow funnier with the retelling… over and over and over again.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                After November, I won’t tell it anymore .Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

                Sam will kill him if he tries anything.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                I see you’ve taken to violating the comment policy again. Duly noted. My hobby is seeking understanding. Your’s appears to be obfuscating understanding. If anyone needs a new hobby, it is you. But I’ll leave you to your own devices. Unlike most conservatives, I’m happy to let folks be as they are.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko says:

                That does sound like the quality of writing and argument that I’ve come to expect from Matt Welch….Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Tom, by using then citing the source of the joke, it’s clear that you’re a front-line warrior in the fight to end our epistemological crisis.

                Good work!Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Aye, Still. Using a nonpartisan libertarian saying Obama stinks on ice was the proper epistemological move. BTW, It was Nick Gillespie. Mea culpa.


                Mega-props to our President Obama for yesterday’s speechifying about simplifying and fair-izing the Infernal Revenue Service and all that.

                Except for one small nitpicky thing: He’s full of shit on this topic. How precisely is he or his Slugger’s Row of policy mavens (you know, the idjits who can’t even use Turbo Tax) gonna make the income tax more fair? As it stands, the top 1 percent of filers pay 40 percent of all income taxes; the top 5 percent pay 60 percent; and the top 10 percent pay fully 70 percent of all income taxes. The bottom 50 percent (5-0, Dano!) pay a whopping 3 percent of all income tax.

                And now this morning, Obama was on the tube again, yapping about traffic jams. What the hell is going on here? The president of the freaking United States is talking about traffic jams?

                That Obama’s big solution is, ta-da!, “high-speed rail” is simply one more sign that he is simply not serious about anything other than paying off 19th and 20th century legacy special interests. I look forward to tomorrow’s press conference, when Obama trains his laser-beam brain on the question of whether Razzles is a candy or a gum.

                Question to the folks, including some of the libertarian persuasion (you fools!), who were bullish on Obama back when the alternative was John McCain, the Terri Schiavo of presidential candidates: When are you going to admit that Barry O stinks on ice? That for all his high-flying and studiously empty rhetoric he’s got the biggest presidential vision deficit since George H.W. Bush puked on a Japanese prime minister (finally, revenge for that long run of Little League World Series losses in the ’70s!). If you’re the president of the United States and you’re talking about goddamn traffic jams and you’re proposing high-speed rail as anything other than an unapologetic boondoggle that will a) never get built and b) never get built to the gee-whiz specs it’s supposed and c) be ridden by fewer people than commuted by zeppelin last year, you’ve got real problems, bub. And by extension, so do we all.

                Transportation policy is important, for sure. And Reason Foundation has all the solutions. Really. But to hear the president talking about traffic jams like he was…. Well, let’s just I’d rather be watching Zardoz. Whatever else you can say about the nightmarish vision of the future, in which Sean Connery wears a cinematic diaper that makes Sting look good at the end of Dune, it solved the Gordian Knot of traffic snarls.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Shorter TVD: Look how effectively I can derail the conversation!

                We get it… You don’t like Obama. If you want to talk about that, write a post. The rest of us are trying to discuss this post here about Mitt Romney.Report

  3. Avatar Kolohe says:

    “I think Romney will come to regret his decision to run as a real nowhere man…But, somehow, on the way from paper to person, the “real” Romney either steps out or steps in (depending on your political affiliation) and reminds how little being good “on-paper” is truly worth.”

    Well, it’s taken him this far, which is pretty darn far, and he still has at least a one in three chance of winning the Presidency. Why change now?Report

    • Avatar Ryan Noonan says:

      This seems right to me. We all know that pundits and other high-info types overestimate how much the average person thinks about campaign specifics, but I still think we underestimate how much we overestimate.Report

  4. Avatar damon says:

    I really had to chuckle at this post. No politician wants to reveal his true self. Revealing any facts just provides ammunition to the opposition. Politics is the art of selling an image (in addition to selling out) and there is no fundamental difference between Mitt and Obama.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      Sure there is. Obama worked to get where he is.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        That’s debatable. Obama’s written two autobiographies already. A real Hamlet, that one. Obama didn’t so much work to get where he is as he moved there and then did something. Obama arrived in Chicago, tabula rasa. Here’s this kid, raised about as White Bread as you can raise a kid, learning to be black, as surely as someone goes off to my little Spanish language school for immersion training. Listen to his cadence, his patter, he’s a chameleon. Not in a bad way, mind you, he’s a hugely intelligent man, a natural politician.

        I don’t hold with these cultural distinctions, they’re all stupid. But Obama didn’t work to get where he is. He moved there. He learned the language. He didn’t stay in New York, he moved to the South Side of Chicago, the very nexus of black political power in the USA. He made important friends and powerful allies, some of which would come back to haunt him but most of whom would serve as a springboard, vaulting him first into the Illinois State Senate then to the US Senate.

        Obama worked at Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, a well-known law firm in Chicago. It’s a curious firm, mostly specialising to minority issues such as community development and civil rights litigation. That was by choice. He could have gone to full professor at University of Chicago. He didn’t. He was building a constituency.

        Obama made Republican friends in Illinois. They respected him in Illinois. Beyond Cook County and a few downstate counties, Illinois is a totally-red state and those rural counties appreciated his willingness to work with the state GOP. If Obama’s not respected by the Washington GOP, they never really gave him a chance. Obama represented a total repudiation of their own partisan ethic.

        And Obama didn’t defeat Hillary Clinton on his record, he was able to destroy her on the basis of what he Didn’t Do, e.g. the Iraq War vote. Obama did what he’s always done: allow his fans to project what they wanted to see onto him. The real Obama, for all he’s written about himself, remains a near-total mystery.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          You might call Obama a grade B politician. A lot of what you write about here is cultivating friendships, building alliances — key things in politics. It takes a rather observant man to choose Clinton as Secretary of State.

          Romney’s a different story. Surrounded by yes men, treated like a spoiled brat who would never have to suffer for his mistakes… He’s not even trying to be a politician. What grade do you give to someone who’s not even trying??
          Get TVD or Koz or Scott to meet Romney. By the end of a conversation, they’d dislike him. It’s a rather horrid habit Romney has — insulting everyone around him. It’s borne of a desire for expediency — it got him what he wanted faster, by putting people offbalance.

          Unlike Huckabee, who honestly seems like a gifted politician…

          Republicans would have been better off with Santorum, and he’s a C grade pol at best (Pa tends to specialize in them).Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            I’m not in the business of rating politicians. I build models. You said Obama worked to get where he is. I said he moved there.

            As for TVD and the rest of ’em, though you may not realise it, I cherish my enemies. You can’t be too careful about the enemies you make and you must remain ever vigilant to maintain such relationships. I say horrible things to all of ’em and they to me. We are never more validated in our opinions than when we debate someone who doesn’t agree with our positions. We learn nothing from approval. That’s a common problem with dictators, Saddam Hussein’s chief complaint was everyone lied to him.

            For what it’s worth, recent scuttlebutt says Obama absolutely loathes Romney. Thinks he’s a big nothing. Even Eric Cantor, who you’d think Obama would hate even more, gets Obama’s respect because Eric Cantor actually stands for something.

            I think it was Kant, maybe someone can correct me here, who said we hate in others what they hate in us. Both of ’em are projections. What’s inside those suits is anyone’s guess. I suspect Romney’s far more moderate than anyone thinks at present time. Huckabee’s a good guy, he really came through during Katrina. Arkansas is a poor state, yet he took in refugees by the thousands.

            But I wouldn’t want such a man in the Oval Office. We had one of those guys in office within my lifetime, Jimmy Carter, a man who meant well, a micromanager who ground this country to a standstill. I deeply respect both Jimmy Carter and Huckabee as men of honour, for that matter, John McCain is a hugely misunderstood man, a hero beyond my poor powers to praise sufficiently. But that’s not what the nation needs in the Oval Office. We need someone with vision. Without a vision, the people perish.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi says:

              One builds models of human behavior, does one not?
              Well, there’s good money to be made for those who do, at any rate.

              Romney might make a good king, but he’s never had to persuade anyone in his life.

              Obama’s a lawyer, probably likes scalia at least a little for being so cussed persistent.

              Huckabees constituents scare me more than him. Opposite of Romney.
              Cheating on taxes is one thing… but what do you say of a man who cheats…(fill in the blank)?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Yes, human behaviour isn’t hard to model. Advertisers rely on such models. They have people who do nothing but take pictures of people going into trendy establishments, looking for colour schemes. People are as predictable as clockwork. You hardly need a sophisticated model: appeal to Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride and you’re on your way to marketing glory.

                Romney’s too smart by half. Such people have trouble keeping their mouths closed and a closed mouth gathers no feet. Romney’s got a problem more commonly seen in flag officers: they’re too used to people taking orders. Not much flexibility in such people. They’re True Believers. Not cynical enough to manipulate that troop of baboons at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

                Huckabee’s constituency gets a little more slack from me than some. These are salt of the earth people. Without their buy-in, American society never gets anywhere.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Romney gave Huck a speaking slot at the convention. No Santorum, no Newt.

                And I don’t think of you as an enemy, Blaise. Any enemies I have are self-designated.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                Come on, you know they’re strategically releasing the convention agenda piecemeal as a marketing ploy. Santorum and Gingrich are going to be there will bells on.

                (holding back on Gingrich is only to obscure the fact that Santorum is on Romney’s short list for VP, though he won’t make the final cut)Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Ooops. I think Santorum loses more votes than he gains. I wonder if they thought they needed to defang him. Friends close, enemies closer and all.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I haven’t been paying enough attention to the GOP shindig. Huckabee could be the conscience of the GOP, it they’d let him.

                And, yeah. You’ve never been an “enemy”. That was just a Rhetorical Flourish. You’re always worth the time and trouble. Pretty much everyone here is, which is why I spend my free time here. Though we call ourselves Ordinary Gentlemen, there’s nothing ordinary about this joint, nossir.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Cheers, bro. I’m a big big religious freedom guy, but Santorum’s out there and Huck’s a Baptist minister.

                We Americans like religion, but just enough. When Huck pulled a “soldiers of Christ” while campaigning in early 2008, I wrote him off.


                Huckabee Steps Back Into the Pulpit at Evangelical Church in N.H.

                By Perry Bacon Jr.
                Washington Post Staff Writer
                Monday, January 7, 2008
                WINDHAM, N.H., Jan. 6 — A pastor from Texas was scheduled to deliver the sermon Sunday at a church here called the Crossing.

                But instead this small evangelical congregation heard from a different special guest: Baptist minister and 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who delivered a sermon of more than 20 minutes on how to be part of “God’s Army” in the middle school cafeteria where the congregation meets.

                “When we become believers, it’s as if we have signed up to be part of God’s Army, to be soldiers for Christ,” Huckabee told the enthusiastic audience.

                Nonononononoooooooo! In God we trust, but we park Jesus at the door, that’s our deal.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                I didn’t mean Huck’s Voters! His contituency is a different matter altogether, and more resembles Palins.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

          FTR, Obama beat Hillary with his surrogates’ race-baiting. NYTMag:

          And the man once called the “first black president” remains deeply wounded by allegations that he made racially insensitive remarks during the campaign, like dismissing Obama’s South Carolina win by comparing it with Jesse Jackson’s victories there in the 1980s.

          “None of them ever really took seriously the race rap,” he told me. “They knew it was politics. I had one minister in Texas in the general election come up and put his arm around me.” This was an Obama supporter. “And he came up, threw his arm around me and said, ‘You’ve got to forgive us for that race deal.’ He said, ‘That was out of line.’ But he said, ‘You know, we wanted to win real bad.’ And I said, ‘I got no problem with that.’ I said it’s fine; it’s O.K. And we laughed about it and we went on.”

          Real funny.

          • Avatar Don Zeko says:

            Don’t you mean to say “Barack Obama beat Hillary in a primary in which some race-baiting occurred?” Because if you’ve got a link that proves the one caused the other, I’ll eat my hat.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            Objection: Hearsay. There is zero evidence of the supposed memos Clinton referred to that indicated Obama planned to play the “race card”. His claims of what someone else told him are inadmissable.

            Objection: Relevance. Isn’t this post about Mitt Romney? Every attempt to discuss the supposedly undiscussable Mitt Romney is derailed with petty whining about our President.

            Obfuscator-on-Call TVD always happy to muddy the waters of otherwise intelligent, reasonable discourse.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            Ecch, the Clintons and the Obamas have plenty of secret laffs between them. Bill and Hillary were always a team. Though it got pretty warm during the primaries, Obama was a mensch to appoint Hillary as his SecState and I’m pretty sure Bill’s on Obama’s speed dial, though to say something to Hillary to say it to Bill.

            The best politicians are often lawyers. Sorta like that old joke about why sharks don’t bite lawyers: professional courtesy.Report

  5. Avatar Liberty60 says:

    There mere fact that in a post about Romney’s lack of a positive reason to vote for him, the comments immediately shift to how Obama stinks on ice, is telling.

    Romney (who is as close to a Generic Republican as computer modeling will allow) is running as the Not-Obama.

    At this point,if Romney dropped dead tomorrow, the Republicans would vote for “Player To Be Named Later”, or “Empty Suit”, “Seat Warmer”, hell they’d turn to Herman Cain in a heartbeat if only to say they stuck it to the Kenyan Usurper.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      Actually, he’s not. Generic Republicans have no negatives, other than that of party — and even then, they’re given the benefit of the doubt. It’s why generic [anything] polls so much better than the real thing.

      Generic is the best of the party. He supports all your pet causes, doesn’t tolerate the foolish fads, never stumbles or says the wrong thing, is gracious and you want to have a beer with him. His past is immaculate and perfect. Even if the party’s a little crazy on some topic for you, Generic isn’t. He knows they’ve gone overboard. Generic is the best of all things.

      Mitt? People don’t like him. I mean literally don’t like him. As in “personally dislike the man”. It’s weird watching a man whose negatives and familiarity ratings tend to rise in tandem. To know Mitt is to dislike him, on average.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        You realize you’d be in snark heaven if the other side said, “But my guy’s more likable!” Yes?

        The same USA Today/Gallup Poll that gave President Obama the big edge in likability also provided powerful good news for the Romney camp. The survey posed the question: “Now, I’d like you to think about Mitt Romney’s background in business, including his time as head of Bain Capital. Do you think his business background would cause him to make good decisions or bad decisions as president in dealing with economic problems the U.S. will face over the next four years?”

        By a stunning margin of 63 to 29, respondents believed that Romney’s past as a businessman would lead to better decisions. Even 34 percent of Democrats saw his career in the private sector as an advantage. They also gave Romney a 19-point advantage in dealing with the federal budget deficit, a 10-point margin in general handling of the economy, and a 5-point edge in having the characteristics to “get things done.”

        While Obama loyalists cling to his nice guy image as a counterweight to Romney’s perceived competence, there’s reason to believe that the president’s surviving likability advantage is not only overrated but profoundly misunderstood. Unlike Clinton and George W. Bush, he doesn’t display an effortless common touch, and he’s hardly an easy-going, down-to-earth guy. His public profile increasingly conforms to the descriptions of his closest acquaintances: he’s a driven, tightly wound, fiercely competitive intellectual. It’s not his race that disqualifies him as the neighbor across the fence, or even his high falutin’ Ivy League education: it’s the sense of anything-to-win desperation, and the inescapable mean streak, that increasingly mar his campaign.

        • Avatar Morat20 says:

          Tom, your response to everything — including “Nice weather today” is “Obama sucks”.

          So I’m unsurprised that indeed, your response was “Obama sucks”.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            Actually, Mr. Morat, Obama stinks on ice. I’d have been happy to leave it at saying it just the once but folks found it commentworthy so I’ve obligingly repeated it.

            As for Obama’s “likeability,” you stand refudiated, or at least potentially so. And you didn’t admit that you’d be in snark heaven if the other side were resorting to saying their guy is more likeable. I mean, really, dude.

            Mitt? People don’t like him. I mean literally don’t like him. As in “personally dislike the man”. It’s weird watching a man whose negatives and familiarity ratings tend to rise in tandem. To know Mitt is to dislike him, on average.

            How is this game played? Oh yes: Cite, please.Report

  6. Avatar Kimmi says:

    “England is just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn’t make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy. And if it hadn’t been separated from the continent by water, it almost certainly would have been lost to Hitler’s ambitions.”

    No WONDER the Brits hate Romney! Insults galore… and these from a well-written book, not a public ceremony!Report

  7. Avatar sigaba says:

    “Besides, we’re not supposed to vote for the personalities but rather the policies”

    I know I’m late to this, but why do you think this is the case? Everybody says it but I think it’s an unexamined and un-argued premise.

    Our electoral system, with its pluralities and loose party affiliations and division of power between president and congress, and senate against house, is specifically designed to prevent you from voting for specific policies. The slot on the ballot box in the US is not wide enough to admit ideology.

    We don’t vote on “personalities” but I think the idea, at least from the founder’s perspective, is that citizens are reliably better at sussing out a person’s trustworthiness, true loyalties, and political power potential, than they are at figuring out wether the Fed should be abolished or not, or wether we should go to war with Iraq or not, and to what extent. Making reasonable decisions on these issues isn’t something that lends itself to bumper stickers or TV debates, no matter how high-minded or fairly argued.Report