I think I’m going to suggest that the High Sheriffs here at TIME quit sending political reporters to these presidential announcements. Our theater critics could probably do a better job, considering that these events tend to be long on symbolism and showmanship, and virtually empty of substance or political import. You can always spot the candidate’s own camera crews, scurrying around to film them from every angle for use in future ads.
Mitt Romney’s this morning was at the Henry Ford Museum
in Dearborn–inside, thankfully, so you won’t have to hear me join my colleague Joe in complaining about the cold. This being a Republican event, they even had a coat check. Romney stood in front of a hybrid SUV and a Rambler, which was a reminder that his father George (the head of American Motors, before he was Governor of Michigan, which was before his 1968 presidential campaign flamed out because he made the mistake of being honest about his “brainwashing” in Vietnam) pioneered the concept of domestic compact cars. The setting gave Mitt the opportunity to use the phrase “innovation and transformation” so many times that I quit counting. Except that it’s hard to be all that forward looking when you are standing in, well, a museum.
It also gave him a chance to remind us that he has a background doing corporate turnarounds as a venture capitalist. But I was surprised–though maybe I shouldn’t have been–at how little he talked about his record as Massachusetts Governor; he made only an oblique reference to his biggest achievement, a groundbreaking universal health care plan.
The fact is, Romney has a lot going for him in a Republican primary race, not much of which was on display in this announcement. Where he won’t light any fires reading a speech, he can be quite compelling in unscripted settings. Much of the GOP establishment is lining up behind him, if only because he isn’t John McCain. The money is rolling in nicely. And there is not a more camera-ready family in politics.
The biggest questions are whether his Mormon faith is a deal-breaker with evangelicals, and more broadly, whether the party’s socially conservative base will believe that his relatively recent moves to the right on social issues are sincere. There was a sign of things to come for Romney in a Monday night salvo from the Brownback campaign, which put out a timeline of the three different positions that Romney has had on abortion and declared:
Mitt Romney’s flip flops are enough to make John Kerry blush.
Now I’m heading to South Carolina, where I hopefully will be able to catch the candidate out among actual voter types.