“But there is something missing,” Giuliani said of Romney’s social and political skills, adding, “There’s some kind of personal connection that doesn’t get made that the other candidates probably do a better job at.”
Events this week revealed just how dangerous that apparent disconnect could be to Romney’s bid for the presidency.
Before a New Hampshire audience, Romney offhandedly declared, “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me,” in the midst of explaining how he would spurn unsatisfactory health-care insurance providers. The comment was instantly touted by critics as a sign of Romney’s cold character.
This is what often happens when a candidate is a mystery: Others paint his portrait for him. Over the years, that reality has bedeviled enigmatic White House losers such as Michael Dukakis and Thomas Dewey, whose names will forever be synonymous with bungled campaigns. Now, amid a struggling economy, Romney’s words have left him appearing tone-deaf, analysts said. Gingrich had bitingly compared him to the defeated Dukakis, another former Massachusetts governor.
Talk of Romney’s perceived stiffness on the campaign trail — longtime fodder for the blogosphere and analysts on both sides of the political divide — has triggered responses from both his campaign and wife about his personality. As television cameras recently followed her on a campaign stop, Ann Romney said of her husband that “people will discover that he’s got a great sense of humor” and that he is very “approachable.”
But concerns about his ability to connect are casually noted by Republican insiders, even among some who once worked for him.
“This is Romney: He knows what is wrong with a car engine, and he knows how to rebuild that engine — but he doesn’t acknowledge the person driving the car,” said Doug Gross, who served as the Romney campaign’s Iowa state chairman in 2008 but is uncommitted in the 2012 race.
Gross sees the challenge growing for Romney as voters face the elemental question of whether they know him.
“He’s not able to warm a room immediately or make an audience feel like he is speaking to them,” Gross said. “You’d have to put a new card in him for that to happen. He’s articulate; he looks great. But can he connect in a way this time that moves voters?”
No skill counts for more in politics than the ineffable ability to reach across a cold space — or through a television screen — and strike a bond with complete strangers.