Eight Theories on the Prickliness of Mitt Romney

Maybe Mitt Romney’s problem is not, after all, fairly pegged as a problem of honesty. Maybe, as I suggested last week, it goes to the heart of how potential leaders establish their humanity, credibility, and connection with the people they intend to lead. American popular democratic norms require that leaders project an aura of give-and-take accessibility.

Not Mitt Romney. And Romney’s downright painful (and widely panned) interview with Fox News’s Bret Baier last week revealed that his campaign has more to fear from the candidate’s public handling of his changed positions than it does from the changed positions themselves.

During the interview, Romney bristled, prickled, and became imperious and petulant in response to a direct but basic line of questioning about his shifting stances.

When Baier pressed him about being on “both sides” of issues like climate change, gay rights, abortion rights, and immigration, Romney replied, “Well, Bret, your list is just not accurate, so we’re going to have to be better informed about my views on issues.”

Note the imperial “we.” And that was just the beginning of a series of angry and defensive interactions. And it’s not like these are surprise attacks or ginned up “swift boat” narratives. Romney’s changeability is well-documented and has been noted consistently since the 2008 race. Is it beyond the capacity of handsomely staffed and funded (and tight-lipped) Team Romney to help the candidate improve his game? They’ve sheltered the candidate from one-on-one interactions. But how long can that strategy work? And should he win the presidency, what then? Does every reporter who presses him on a position get stonewalled and badgered? Not fun to watch or listen to, my friends. Not fun at all.

Whence cometh the prickliness of Mitt Romney? Eight theses:

A. a personality flaw

B. a result of having been insulated by class privilege

C. a result of developing his leadership style in an LDS institutional culture wherein leaders are expected to appear “flawless” and dissent and open disagreement is not sanctioned

D. a consequence of a pragmatic-technocratic outlook that values incentives and outcomes over human processes (the New York Times calls it the “Mitt-bot” phenomenon)

E. discomfort with the Fox News venue due to Fox News viewers’ perceived allegiance with the evangelical right (distrustful of Mormons) and the Tea Party (distrustful of Romney)

F. weariness from two cycles of presidential campaigning and frustration with the perceived irrationality of voters (Herman Cain? Newt Gingrich? really?)

G. all of the above

H. none of the above

Other theories?

I’ve been studying the pages of journalist Ronald B. Scott’s Mitt Romney: An Inside Look at the Man and his Politics, trying to get a better grip on the Romney human connection problem. Scott is a Bostonian and a Mormon with good insights into Romney and his milieu, but he too puzzles over this prickliness issue for more than two hundred pages.

Whatever its source—whether personality, or technocracy, or Mormon hierarchy, or social class—the prickliness is a problem. And we’ve got at least nine months of it left to endure.