The art of spin, I suppose, involves making the best of what you’ve got and managing to deliver it with a straight face, no matter how preposterous. But the argument that Mitt Romney’s flubs on his overseas trip reflected the candidate’s compulsive penchant for simply saying what he thinks, consequences be damned, is about as knee-slapping a spin effort as I’ve ever seen.
No one has ever confused the Romney campaign with the Straight Talk Express.
First of all, Romney is a particularly remote and inaccessible candidate. On the trip just concluded, he granted several TV interviews but took only three questions from U.S. reporters in London. After that, as The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker reported, no questions and no access — not even a bit of candidate schmoozing with his traveling press corps.
Second, when Romney does talk, blunt and straightforward are not exactly the adjectives that come to mind. Nonetheless, there was Stuart Stevens, the senior adviser dispatched to join the trip after the unfortunate Olympics comments, insisting that what the episodes show is that the candidate “has a tendency to speak his mind and to say what he believes.”
Romney gave himself a similarly unconvincing pat on the back a few days earlier. “I tend to tell people what I actually believe, and referring to the comments that were made in the media is something which I felt was an honest reflection of what was being concerned, or what was concerning folks,” he told ABC’s David Muir about the Olympics comment.
My first encounter with Romney did not exactly leave me convinced of his tendency “to tell people what I actually believe.” It was February 2005, and Dan Balz of The Washington Post asked Romney, then the governor of Massachusetts, about his views on abortion.
“I can tell you what my position is, which is — and it’s in a very narrowly defined sphere — which is, as candidate for governor and as governor of Massachusetts,” Romney said, “what I said to people was that I personally did not favor abortion, that I am personally pro-life. However, as governor, I would not change the laws of the commonwealth relating to abortion.
“Now I don’t try and put a bow around that and say, what does that mean you are? Does that mean you’re pro-life or pro-choice? Because that whole package, meaning I’m personally pro-life but I won’t change the laws, you could describe that as — I don’t think you can describe it in one hyphenated word.”
Now there’s a profile in candor. Mitt Romney has many strengths and many flaws. Being an unvarnished truth-teller does not fall in either category.