The Ned Flanders of Politics: Romney Isn’t Cool, and the GOP Shouldn’t Worry About It

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Brian Snyder / Reuters

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets audience members during a campaign stop in Warwick, R.I., on April 11, 2012

When President Obama went on late-night TV this week to “slow jam” his stump speech on student loans with Jimmy Fallon and the Roots, he pulled off a rare feat. For a second, he made Stafford-loan interest rates cool. The denizens of the Internet clicked and laughed and listened to pretty much the same shtick Obama gave at sawdust-dry White House–sanctioned events earlier in the week. But on TV, with ?uestlove keeping time, it was cool. And that, apparently, rankled some Republicans.

The GOP über-PAC American Crossroads responded to the Fallon appearance by reviving the notorious “biggest celebrity in the world” line from 2008 in a video that, for the most part, actually makes Obama look pretty cool!

The Republican National Committee followed suit, splicing together Obama’s jam with a sober Mitt Romney speech, contrasting the two candidates and punctuating the whole thing with bits of dire economic news. But the Web video doesn’t exactly make Romney out to be a thrilling alternative. “Everywhere I go, Americans are tired of being tired,” he says to kick things off. (I get tired just hearing that line.)

Republicans have a hipness complex. These are Web videos that few voters will ever see, but they’re clearly coming from the same part of the Grand Old Psyche that compelled John McCain to run the Paris Hilton ad last time around. They’re a way to have some fun and score some points. But they also betray some discomfort with, and even resentment of, Obama’s coolness.

This is a silly thing to worry about. Most voters don’t care about the “have a beer with” factor — two of the past three Republican candidates have been teetotalers, after all. Young people already vote Democratic in overwhelming numbers, and the coolness hang-up runs counter to Romney’s attempts to cast himself as a sober economic turnaround artist.

On a campaign conference call a few days ago, Romney surrogate and 72-year-old former Senator Hank Brown said his party had a good shot at the youth vote because “we have a younger, more dynamic Republican candidate” than GOP ticket-toppers of the past. That’s silly. Romney is 65. That’s younger than McCain or Bob Dole but still a decade and a half Obama’s senior. No one can deny Romney’s personal success, his beautiful family or his presidential mien. But how many people’s first impression is really “youthful dynamo”? Romney is basically the Ned Flanders of politics. (His lifetime supply of cool points was revoked in January 2008 when, apropos of nothing, he asked some kids, “Who let the dogs out?” — a completely inscrutable reference to the 2000 hit single by the Baha Men.) Mitt Romney isn’t cool. Get over it. There’s nothing wrong with it.