All of a sudden, Massachusetts is America’s poster child for health-care reform — and nobody’s happier about that than Governor Mitt Romney, who, as a result, has become a popular dark-horse pick for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. Some of the accolades directed at Romney in recent days have been warranted, some less so — but one comment in particular demands correction. In a hubba-hubba Newsweek column, Jonathan Alter suggested that, thanks to the cautionary example of Romney’s father, George, Mitt is “not likely to be gaffe-prone” as he seeks the presidency. (George Romney’s 1968 presidential campaign fizzled after he claimed US officials had subjected him to “brainwashing” regarding the Vietnam War.)
Au contraire, Mr. Alter. Mitt Romney has many strengths, but gracefully dodging mistakes isn’t one of them. In fact, as we here in Massachusetts know firsthand, the governor is something of a political klutz. Consider these classic Romney blunders:
10) Cardinal error
As Romney heads to Rome for Boston archbishop Sean O’Malley’s elevation to cardinal in March, a Romney spokesperson says the two men are friends, and that the archbishop asked the governor to make the trip. But this doesn’t square with O’Malley’s account. “I’ve met him a couple times — don’t know him well,” the archbishop tells the Boston Globe. Worse, O’Malley says he didn’t invite the governor. (O’Malley’s spokesperson later says Romney did receive an invitation that “was similar to that extended to the general public.”)
9) The price is wrong
After the London subway bombings in July 2005, Romney briefly rides Boston’s T to reassure the citizenry. At a press conference beforehand, the governor incorrectly identifies the price of a subway token as $1. (It’s $1.25.)
8) What’s in a name?
During a radio appearance for the 2002 campaign, Romney forgets the name of his running mate, Kerry Healey. Explaining that Healey will help broaden the GOP ticket’s appeal, Romney says, “That is what has drawn me to Sherry.” Also, while discussing his efforts to woo conservative Democrats, Romney calls former Massachusetts governor and Reagan supporter Ed King “Frank King.”
7) He likes gay people
In 1994, while running against Ted Kennedy for the US Senate, Romney assures the Massachusetts Log Cabin Republicans that “as we seek to establish full equality for America’s gay and lesbian citizens, I will provide more effective leadership than my opponent.” (Remember, that opponent is Ted Kennedy. Romney gets the endorsement.) During his 2002 gubernatorial campaign, Romney operatives distribute bright-pink fliers at Boston’s gay-pride festival that read: “Mitt and Kerry wish you a great Pride weekend! All citizens deserve equal rights, regardless of their sexual preference.” Two years later, during his speech at the Republican National Convention, Romney likens the threat from same-sex marriage to the menace of Islamist terrorism.
6) Not that there’s anything wrong with that
During Boston’s 2005 St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, Romney — who is Mormon, and whose great-grandfather Miles was a polygamist — jokes, “I believe marriage should be between a man and a woman . . . and a woman . . . and a woman.” The governor recycles this line during Don Imus’s 2006 St. Patrick’s Day broadcast, thereby undercutting his own campaign to convince evangelical Christians that Mormons aren’t really that weird.
5) Mission accomplished
In December 2005, announcing his intention not to seek re-election the following year, the governor basically says that everything in Massachusetts is peachy. “Frankly, what’s happened is that we got a lot more done than I expected we would,” Romney explains. “I’ve got the job done I set out to do.” Three months later, a panel appointed by Romney to study the case of Haleigh Poutre — a 12-year-old adoptee who was savagely beaten in September 2005 and nearly allowed to die, only to recover miraculously — recommends major reform of the Massachusetts Department of Social Services.
4) And when it got cold, we threw those remnants on the fire
In 1994, Romney allows his wife, Ann, to detail the couple’s background in an interview with the Globe. Mrs. Romney offers the following Dickensian account: “They were not easy years. You have to understand, I was raised in a lovely neighborhood, as was Mitt, and at BYU [Brigham Young University], we moved into a $62-a-month basement apartment with a cement floor and lived there two years as students with no income. It was tiny. And I didn’t have money to carpet the floor. But you can get remnants, samples, so I glued them together, all different colors. It looked awful, but it was carpeting. We were happy, studying hard. Neither one of us had a job, because Mitt had enough of an investment from stock that we could sell off a little at a time.”