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When boring is normal

Probably only the Edwin Edwards Syndrome striking can arrest Mitt Romney’s march towards the Republican nomination to challenge US President Barack Obama in November. But that’s unlikely, given just how vanilla Romney is, writes Anirudh Bhattacharyya.

india Updated: Jan 13, 2012 22:58 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya

‘The only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy,’ declared Democrat Edwin Edwards in 1983, as he sought to become the governor of the southern state of Louisiana. Edwards won.

Probably only the Edwin Edwards Syndrome striking can arrest Mitt Romney’s march towards the Republican nomination to challenge US President Barack Obama in November. But that’s unlikely, given just how vanilla Romney is.

I watched him in action twice while covering the 2008 presidential elections. Once at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, and then at the annual North American International Auto Show in Detroit. At the first event, supporters handed out mitts (the gloves, not the candidate) to visitors. And he was in Detroit the year after the prototype of the Chevy Volt electric car was unveiled there. Like the vehicle, Romney’s 2008 campaign couldn’t get fully charged and cost way too much for the mileage it delivered.

His Iowa Victory Party was scheduled at the same West Des Moines hotel where I was staying. But by the time I returned after reporting on Obama’s stunning success in the Democratic caucus, the party was over, if it had actually taken place. At least in the sense of being a party — since Romney lost Iowa — was defeated in New Hampshire a few days later, and by February, had withdrawn from the race, despite spending over $40 million of his own money on his campaign.

This year has worked out better for Romney. The former Massachusetts governor has positioned himself as a job creator with a background in business and someone who isn’t a career politician. His rival Newt Gingrich, however, did kindly point out during a debate that the only thing that stopped him from becoming a career politician was his loss to Ted Kennedy in a US Senate race in 1994.

Romney doesn’t inspire too many Con-servatives; rather, he’s the default candidate. Part of the issue has been his evolving sta-nces on issues like universal healthcare, abortion, bailouts, among others. One 2008 contender, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee observed during that cycle: “He spent more time on the road to Damascus than a Syrian camel driver. And we thought nobody could fill John Kerry’s flip-flops!”

If Obama is ‘TelePrompterMan’, Romney is ‘PowerPointBoy’. He appears to relish lists. He has a 160-page economic growth plan with 59 policy proposals and, during debates, seems to have the itch to spell them all out — with footnotes. He gave his most exciting speech yet after he won the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, going from wooden to plastic. He’s the latest in the line of presidential aspirants including Bob Dole, Al Gore and John Kerry, who suffer from male pattern blandness.

Trying not to appear a product of the factory for manufacturing presidential androids, Romney, in 2008, tried stuff like mouthing the words to Baha Men’s Who Let The Dogs Out during a campaign stop in Florida. Those who didn’t cringe at the awkward image of Romney spouting rap were reminded instead that he had once strapped his dog, in a carrier, to the roof of his station wagon during a 12-hour drive from Boston to Canada. No, Romney just couldn’t hop on to the hip bandwagon.

But those miscues shouldn’t dog him this year, as wins in Iowa and New Hampshire and widening leads in significant early primary states like South Carolina (where Indian-American governor Nikki Haley has endorsed him) and Florida point to his inevitability as his party’s nominee.

There won’t be crowds at Romney’s campaign events cheering the candidate for blowing his nose, as they did for Obama in 2008. At most, there could be spontaneous projections of Romney’s greatest Excel sheets.

But the hysteria of 2008 and the deflation in its aftermath probably make the plastic anti-Obama candidate even more attractive to Romney’s supporters, who have had enough of Hope and Change and don’t just want a pizzazz delivery man. For 2012, boring is normal.

( Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years )

The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Jan 13, 2012 22:56 IST