Mitt Romney had a golden opportunity a week ago to do something about his inauthenticity problem, the one that even his most ardent supporters in New Hampshire recognize. Faced with an obviously disappointing, disheartening loss in the Iowa caucus, Romney could have expressed a little disappointment. Shown that he was a tad disheartened. Like a real human being would have.
Instead, Romney put on that perfect smile of his, and insisted on Fox News Thursday evening that he was pleased as punch with the results. He had won the silver medal, he said. Beaten the big-name candidates. Very pleased.
Having said it once, he had to say it again, and again, to every reporter and in front of every camera, for the next five days — time that he needed to recover before Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.
There is nothing that comes off as more inauthentic, especially in this post–“Mission Accomplished” world, than someone saying everything’s going great when everyone knows it’s going badly. It’s Ken Lay telling investors that Enron is in great financial shape while he’s selling his shares. It’s “Heckuva job, Brownie” while New Orleans drowns.
It’s exactly what wasn’t going to sell in New Hampshire, against John “Straight Talk” McCain. And it didn’t, as Mitt lost the race on Tuesday night, 37 to 31 percent.
And that night, Romney put on that phony happy face once again. “There have been three races so far,” Romney said in his concession speech. (The third, between Iowa and New Hampshire, was Romney’s victory in this past weekend’s virtually uncontested Wyoming contest.) “I’ve gotten two silvers and one gold.”Coming into New Hampshire, Romney and his strategists seemed determined to confirm the worst stereotypes of the candidate as a poll-driven, market-tested, say-anything, committee-built product. Though no stranger to the term in some of his earlier political ads, he immediately pounced on the buzzword with which the media was interpreting the Iowa-caucus results: a desire for “change.” Like a national corporate brand rushing to market with a knock-off of the latest street fad, the Romney team plastered the new catch phrase onto their old product as soon as his jet hit the tarmac in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in the wee hours of Friday morning. The word “change” flowed constantly from his mouth; Washington was the problem on every issue; Romney was the candidate dedicated — since late Thursday, anyway — to changing what’s wrong in Washington.
“I guess I have to take all the things about him I’ve been calling ‘accomplishments,’ and start calling them ‘changes,’ ” said Claira Monier, a veteran Republican activist and stalwart Romney supporter from Goffstown. She had just attended a Friday “Ask Mitt Anything” event, where Romney used the word “change” several dozen times in a half-hour speech.
Asked whether New Hampshire voters might find something a bit phony about Romney’s obvious glomming onto the suddenly trendy concept, Monier shrugged it off. “Everyone already thinks he’s not authentic.”
By Sunday, the campaign had printed a giant, dark blue “Washington is broken” backdrop; the ability to change campaign themes overnight is one of the many advantages of a bottomless purse. Even some people planning to vote for him laughed at the transparent phoniness of it.