For much of the fall of 2008, Sarah Palin seemed like the person at the top of the Republican ticket. But even then, the nominal presidential candidate, John McCain, had a strong personality, as well as a biography that was hard to ignore, and he had the ability to take the spotlight back from his diva running mate (although he did that mostly with loopy moves like suspending his campaign during the financial collapse, then botching his response to the collapse).
Mitt Romney is different. He can be upstaged by pretty much anybody -- Chris Christie, Condi Rice, Lyin' Paul Ryan, Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair.
We've had three emotionally reserved presidential candidates from Massachusetts in my lifetime, but the last two, like McCain, had compelling life stories: John Kerry as a Purple Heart winner turned anti-war activist (and, if you lived in the wingnut fever swamps, a gigolo and a guy who lied about his war record), Michael Dukakis as the son of immigrants and thus an embodiment of the American dream (even his flatness of affect in the face of a gang assault from Lee Atwater and outside Republican interest groups was oddly compelling).
Mitt Romney is different. I don't know if it's literally impossible to make his life story compelling or if he and his wife and campaign just refuse to do it, but they failed this week -- the supposedly humanizing touches in Ann's speech were mostly generic (if you have several young sons, they can be boisterous!); in Mitt's speech last night he was able to find some luminous detail about his parents' marriage (the daily rose from George), but he wasn't able (or willing) to reveal anything comparable about his own.
And he seems to be treating the plans for his presidency -- the specifics of his policies -- the way he's treating his marriage (and, for that matter, his tax returns): as something decent people don't talk about in public, and don't ask about.
So he was not compelling last night. He's one of the least compelling Republicans out there (even though many of them are compelling the way a train wreck is compelling).
"Good enough," said CNN commentator and GOP operative Alex Castellanos. "No silver tongue, but Mitt Romney gets job done," said Politico. And what was the "job"? Let Democrat-basher Howie Carr of the Boston Herald answer that:
He's not Barack Obama.But he's a terrible vessel. So why don't the Republicans just send him home and let him hang out with his grandkids and play with his car elevator? We know he's the guy who'll be sworn in as president if Obama loses. He doesn't have to keep reminding us of that. And we also know he's not the (cankered, diseased) heart and soul of the party.
In the end, that's what it comes down to with Mitt Romney. He's running as the non-Barack Obama.
... this election will be about Barack Obama, period.... [Romney]'s just the vessel.
So send Ryan out on the stump. Send Governor Kramden of New Jersey. Hell, send Eastwood and the chair. Better yet, send the Kochs and Limbaugh and Grover Norquist, because they're going to be running things if Romney wins. Leave Romney at home.
Oscar Wilde wrote this about one of his literary contemporaries:
Mr. Henry James writes fiction as if it were a painful duty.Well, Mitt Romney campaigns as if it were a painful duty. So relieve him of that duty. This campaign isn't about him anyway.