The dig, or one of them, against Mitt Romney is that he is personally cold or remote. But like so much other conventional wisdom this assessment is proving to be off base.
“He’s not stiff. He’s letting his own human nature through, talking like you and I are talking now, not guarded and watching what he’d say,” Marge Sowa, 69, said of the Republican presidential candidate after sizing him up at a pancake breakfast in Brunswick, Ohio, during his tour of potential battleground states. “He showed personality — oh, big time. He was one of the guys.”
One of the guys. That’s a far cry from how voters described Romney during the tumultuous GOP primaries. Now that he is their likely nominee and running an extremely close race against President Obama, Republicans are demonstrating fresh enthusiasm.
Instead of polite clapping, Romney’s campaign speech riffs are cheered with hoots and whistles and chants of “Rom-ney! Rom-ney!”
There are no fainting Obama girls, but it’s a far cry from “the trees are the right height,” a phrase for which the press taunted him unmercifully.
So what happened? It’s fair to conclude part of the transformation is Romney’s doing and part is how he is regarded. Romney has steadily improved as a candidate since the beginning of the 2008 campaign. He is straining less to impress Christian conservatives, instead finding his own voice. At a conference of Christian conservatives, Romney brought the crowd to its feet talking not about abortion but about Israel. In other words, he is in his wheelhouse talking about the economy and the president’s failed international leadership.
No doubt the presence of Ann Romney, a political rock star with voters and a hard-to-charm press corps, has helped loose him up. But there is nothing to beat the confidence and experience that come with having run before.
We shouldn’t discount Romney’s of sense of competitiveness. Aides since the rocky days of the primary have talked about his willingness to go back time and again to critique and improve. This is vintage Romney — the guy who relentlessly evaluated businesses and pushed for success. His gaffes are fewer now, and he has refined a message with which he is comfortable.
But we shouldn’t discount how differently he is regarded now that he is the nominee. As his chances to win improves, crowds realize they are meeting and listening to a potential president. Those who turn out can almost taste victory, which in many, if not most, conservatives’ minds is defined of ridding the country of the Obama presidency. Anyone who speaks in public knows that having an enthusiastic audience pumps you up, builds confidence and provides for some moments of spontaneous interplay.
And finally, the media and Romney critics set the bar very low for Romney. He was not so robotic and remote as they painted him, and he delivered some impressive speeches (at the CPAC convention in August) and debate performances (shredding in turn Newt Gingrich and then Rick Santorum). When voters see him now, he far exceeds expectations.
There is an ebb and flow in campaigns, so riding high one month is no guarantee a candidate won’t stumble the next. That said, part of Romney’s political success can be attributed to underestimation both on the right and by the left. He’s proving to be a much more formidable candidate than they imagined. He’s certainly a better candidate than the Obama team contemptuously has regarded him.