Mitt Romney might have failed on Saturday to lock up the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat from Utah, but his appearance at an NBA playoff game on Monday is a surefire nominee for the Pandering Politicians Hall of Fame.
Romney, of course, is fabulously wealthy and couldn't reasonably be expected to take in a sporting event in any other fashion. Why should he feign modesty and don a T-shirt while sitting in the nosebleeds?
Let's also recognize that Romney’s sports bona fides are better than most politicians’. He was, after all, chief executive of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics organizing committee.
What lent a theatrical feel to Romney's attendance at a Utah Jazz game was the gusto with which he joined his fellow fans in taunting the Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook after the reigning league MVP picked up his fourth foul.
If Romney really is a Jazz fan, then he is recent convert. When Utah voters last saw Romney's name on a ballot, during the 2012 presidential race, the former Massachusetts governor could be found in the crowd at a Celtics playoff game and talking up his affinity for Boston-area teams.
“I take personal, full responsibility for two Super Bowl wins [by the Patriots], as well as the Red Sox winning the World Series,” Romney joked on ESPN's “Monday Night Football” on the eve of Election Day. “Hey, look, as governor, you get blamed for everything that goes wrong. You might as well get the credit for what goes right.”
Most Red Sox fans would prefer to forget the disastrous 2012 season, but Romney got excited that fall when the Detroit Tigers reached the World Series. He called the team “part of the heart and soul of Detroit” — a claim he could ostensibly make with some authority, as a native Michigander.
Many a politician has professed fandom in a way that seems less than authentic or out of touch. Romney's opponent in 2012, President Barack Obama, spoke often about his love of basketball but at a fundraiser in Miami that year misstated the name of the city's NBA team.
Campaigning in Indiana during the 2016 Republican presidential primary, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) held a rally at the gymnasium where “Hoosiers” was filmed — then referred to a hoop as a “basketball ring.”
During the 2016 general election, Hillary Clinton's campaign highlighted her love of the World Series-bound Chicago Cubs, prompting others to recall the former senator from New York's previously stated devotion to the Yankees.
Romney is hardly the first candidate to change allegiances or jump on a bandwagon in the name of political expedience. But the combination of his jersey and gesture is hard to beat.