Mitt’s Catch-22: Be Scripted and Fake or Natural and ‘Weird’?

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Politico has an interesting story today about the pitfalls for Mitt Romney as a candidate in the months ahead. Chief among them is Romney himself, a man whom even his admirers would not call a naturally gifted politician. The eternal question for the non-gifted pol is what to do about it: stick relentlessly to a script and some across like a phony robot; or “be yourself,” and risk tripping over your own klutzy feet. (I’d say Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are good examples of naturally gifted pols; George W. Bush might qualify, too. Al Gore comes immediately to mind in the Romney-esque category.)  

Here’s what Politico calls the prevailing concern:

In interviews with top officials nationwide, Republicans expressed fear Romney will start, well, acting like Romney again — by improvising, maybe sparking another my-friends-own-NFL-teams moment in a clumsy attempt at connecting with voters.

Later in the same story, however, Politico says that Republicans are worried about Romney’s ability to “connect” with voters. Here’s the advice of one prominent activist:

“It’s just a magical spark — I don’t know if you can build a plan to make it happen,” Phillips said from Wisconsin, where he is working on the recall election. “Usually, candidates get in trouble when they try to manufacture it with rhetoric or with some symbolic action that kind of goes over the line and rings false or kind of frightens people. And it’s better just to go out there and be yourself.”

Can you see the problem here? Romney needs to “go out there and be [himself]” to as to connect with voters. And yet he dares not “be himself,” lest he aristocratically refer to “sport” in the singular, or muse about the proper height of trees. And yet if he sticks doggedly to a script, he’ll be mocked for cowardly avoidance of the media and accused of being an android.

That’s not to say that Romney’s public style should be above mockery and criticism. Personality matters in a President; a huge part of the job is about presence on the public stage. But I do have sympathy for the Catch-22 that traps non-natural politicians like Romney. Bring on the kibitzers!