It’s downright weird to hear Team Romney whine and kvetch about Team Obama’s impending attempts to depict the Mittster as weird.
The Romney camp huffed and puffed with impunity yesterday when it learned, via a well-sourced Politico story, that the White House plans to paint the likeliest Republican presidential nominee as an odd dude who can’t connect with average Americans; as one Obama adviser reportedly put it, “There’s a weirdness factor with Romney, and it remains to be seen how he wears with the public.” Romney’s spinners spent most of the day in high dudgeon, denouncing the nascent Obama strategy as “disgraceful” and trumpeting Mitt’s victimhood in a new campaign ad.Granted, Team Obama’s intentions do seem a tad desperate – the equivalent of saying, “The economy is in the tank and our guy is in trouble, so maybe we should paint the other guy as even worse, and nothing is worse than a weirdo.” If Obama is indeed preparing to abandon his preferred high road, life on the inside must be bad. Actually, I’m not convinced that Romney is fatally weird. Yes, he makes some awkward jokes (he told some jobless voters that he too is jobless), and he initiates awkward horseplay (he recently pretended that a lady in New Hampshire had squeezed his butt), and he did once strap his crated dog to the roof of the family car (where the dog remained until dog pee cascaded down the car window), and he has started to wear skinny jeans in order to look cool, and he does hew to a religious faith that many Americans view with suspicion (although the Obama camp will never explicitly say so). But he’s not nearly as weird as Richard Nixon was.Nixon had the body language of a marionette being tugged to and fro by a drunken puppeteer. He was so bad at small talk that he once asked an interviewer, “Have a pleasant evening last night? Did you do any fornicating?” Yet he still managed to win two presidential elections.But even though the Obama strategy seems weird, Romney’s orchestrated umbrage is way weirder – because Romney himself has long labored to tag the president as weird, as alienated from all red-blooded American values. Back in June, Romney painted Obama as (gasp) “European,” as a seeker of “European answers” gathered from “the capitals of Europe.” He has also recited the long-discredited Republican lie about how Obama supposedly travels the world apologizing for America – and what could be weirder than an apologist?In other words, Romney has no business bemoaning the weirdness strategy. Few politicians do, because the strategy has been standard practice for years. One of the modern pioneers was Lee Atwater, the legendary Republican gut-fighter who made his bones in South Carolina by painting a Democratic candidate as a mentally imbalanced weirdo who had been “hooked up to jumper cables.” Atwater graduated to the ’88 presidential campaign, where he helped create the impression that Democratic hopeful Michael Dukakis was weird in part because his Greek name sounded foreign. The George W. Bush campaign in 2004 went the same route with John Kerry, dropping hints to reporters that the guy was weird because he seemed vaguely “French.”And, lest we forget, Bush’s camp followers pinned the weirdness label on Al Gore in 2000. This was a major weapon in the conservative arsenal. Consider this missive from commentator Jonah Goldberg: “Al Gore is not boring. He is weird. In fact, he is one of the weirdest dudes in the long run of American politics…if you threw a bucket of water on his head, sparks would fly out of his ears and scary ‘zrbt zzt ffzz zzzzt’ sounds would come out of his mouth…he is a bizarre and desperate man trapped in a robot’s body.”What’s really weird, in other words, is that Team Romney would purport to be shocked and appalled by such a traditional tactic. On the contrary, Team Romney is undoubtedly thrilled that the Obama strategists are paying so much attention. After all, Mitt has long been trying to convince wary Republicans to take him seriously as a viable front-runner, and, meanwhile, Rick Perry is saddling up to ride to the party’s rescue at Mitt’s expense. What better way for Mitt’s people to boost the boss’ prospects – and to knock Perry out of the news cycle – than to advertise (via sustained phony outrage) the news that Obama appears to be taking Mitt very seriously indeed? They were smart to do it. Had they not done so, it would have been weird.
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