Why Is Mitt Romney So Incredibly Weird?
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Mitt Romney is weird. When the Obama reelection campaign early in the cycle made the mistake of indicating that its strategy would be to imply that Mitt Romney is weird by repeatedly telling Politico that it planned on calling Mitt Romney weird, Romney’s camp countered by causing a brief and not particularly sincere media brouhaha over whether “weird” is code for “Mormon.” Plenty of Americans think Mormons are weird, yes, but in this case, the simple fact is Mitt Romney is weird, entirely apart from his religion.
He seems incapable of natural conversation and frequently uncomfortable in his own skin. He’s simultaneously dorkily earnest and ingratiatingly insincere. He suggests a brilliantly designed politician android with an operating system still clearly in beta. He once tied a dog to the roof of his car and drove for hundreds of miles without stopping and some years later thought that was an endearing story. All video of him attempting to interact with normal humans is cringe-inducing, as a cursory YouTube search quickly demonstrates. (Martin Luther King Day, Jacksonville, Fla., 2008: Mitt poses for a picture with some cheerful young parade attendees. As he squeezes in to the otherwise all-black group, he says, apropros of nothing, “Who let the dogs out? Woof, woof!”) He seems to have been told that “small talk” is mostly made up of cheerfully delivered non sequiturs.
Every good Romney profile has a “Romney says something bizarre” moment. In Sridhar Pappu’s 2005 profile for the Atlantic, Romney produced a commemorative plate featuring the likenesses of Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower, and announced: “Not only was Eisenhower one of my favorite presidents; when we became grandparents, you get to choose what the kids will call you. Some call you Papa. I chose Ike. I’m Ike, and Ann is Mamie.”
Leaving aside that Eisenhower worship is not particularly widespread in the modern GOP (he failed to kill the New Deal programs and didn’t particularly love Israel), it is not “a thing” that you can make your grandchildren call you by the name of a random dead president. There are a wide variety of names for grandparents based on family traditions and cultures and adorable toddler malapropisms, but I have never heard of a grandparent asking to be called some other non-related person’s name. (“Make the children call me ‘Horatio’ because I so admire ‘CSI: Miami’s’ David Caruso.”)
This odd Eisenhower admiration seems like some sort of carefully calculated (but poorly thought out) way to highlight “moderateness” while also appealing to pious sentiment. Romney explains that he admires Ike as much for his personal morals as for his actual acts, and says he feels disappointed in Jefferson, for his affair with Sally Hemings. “What for me makes people like Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt and John Adams and George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan such extraordinary leaders is that they had integrity through and through,” he says. (I guess it’s OK to have an affair, like FDR, and own slaves, like Washington, but Romney draws the line at combining the two.)
He has an odd habit of bragging, or sort of bragging, when dealing with regular folk on the campaign trail. The New York Times (in a feature, by Ashley Parker and Michael Barbaro, entirely about how weird Mitt Romney is) has him telling a woman at a diner that he “stayed at a Courtyard hotel last night,” adding, “it’s LEED-certified.”