In the interest of Truth and Accuracy, it should be made perfectly clear that I would usually never watch The Tonight Show, much less vote for Mitt Romney. But I have come here not to bury Ol' Malleable Mitt but to praise him. By appearing on Leno's show the other night, he showed a concentrated effort to shore up his most glaring weakness: a lack of connectivity, of that certain je ne sais quoi that sparks a stirring in a voter's heart and soul, instead of their minds, and a critical ingredient for winning the GOP nomination.
Romney was downright affable by his standards, keeping up a surprisingly good banter with a few moments that even felt almost organic. Telling Jay he would help him out by selecting Letterman as VP was particularly funny, as well as his impossibly deadpan-yet-deer in the headlights response to Leno's questioning of the chances "we'd be talking about porn."
After calling Chris Christie "indomitable" in a word association game, he told Leno he would "try to use smaller words next time," and saved his best jab for the final person, responding to Rick Santorum with "press secretary."
The former governor seemed less robotic, as if the heat on set had loosened him up -- perhaps he is cold blooded -- and for brief, shimmering moments we got carefully shielded peaks at the man behind his presidential central casting facade.
Wearing a dark suit and handsome blue banded tie, his every consummately coifed hair in place, Romney seemed custom-made for television. But in a race that has seen the talkboxes weigh in more heavily than any other since 1960, he has consistently fallen short in the myriad of debates. No longer is looking good enough for voters; that novelty has long since worn off, and it seemed of little importance that his more slovenly competitors were less the aesthetic embodiment of a president when their prowess in debating had them spinning poor Mitt in circles.
Up there on stage in the presidential equivalent of a bloodsport, Romney's intellectual and somewhat living form of governance simply seemed impotent and lacking in passion. Combine those flaccid performances with his somewhat aloof attitude and the jarring realization that he is a member of the One Percent -- a revelation which should surprise or outrage exactly no one, but was beaten into the ground regardless -- and you arrive at a candidate whose vanilla stylings, both interpersonally and politically, have left the door open for any number of also ran kings and government bulldogs looking to be Best in Show.
While he may have showed off his sporting side on Leno, his other Achilles' heel remained un-dipped in the Styx. Romney's political policies, which are flexible and front brain if you run more moderate, and sniveling and squirming for the hard right, remained ambiguous. His refusal to name what government agencies he would consolidate, saying he needed to go over the data, was an outright dodge, while other policy inquiries were met with inky half thoughts.
Romney's position on Obamacare both towed the party line ("Well day one, I will grant a waiver from Obamacare to all 50 states") and seemed befuddled by Leno's assertions that children and people with pre-existing conditions are the ones who will suffer the most from such a repeal. His response was a meandering and unpolished account of people who had been previously insured but had lost their protection being able to receive coverage and of keeping people from playing the system, while effectively dodging the most difficult question facing Obamacare's enemies--namely, how do you justify depriving the suffering of people's newly gained leases on life?
Mitt backtracked a bit on his previous Russian statements, asserting correctly that Russian government does not operate as ours does and justifying his perhaps too broadly painted strokes in the aftermath of Obama's microphone snafu. Citing Russian support of countries like Iran, Venezuela and Cuba and their efforts to thwart heavy sanctions on said nations provided an understandable and tenable position, rather then the Cold War evoking assertions that they are "our number one geopolitical foe."
In all fairness, Romney did specify that it is Russia's behind the scenes actions that he considers dangerous during the original interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer; it was the more competent and streamlined presentation, in front of a national audience, that clarifies things here.
His tax presentation was simple, albeit wrong -- trickle down in any way, shape or form just does not provide long term economic stability, I am sorry to say -- but his plan to cut corporate rates and close loopholes had potential and the marks of sanity that a businessman would bring to economic issues. Romney's argument, that lowering the tax rate at home and closing the gaps in the tax code to make up the difference will keep more industry in the U.S., is plausible. Lost in the shuffle, however, is the reality of the situation, which is that many corporations are so adept at working those spaces they pay next to nothing in taxes now. With those options blocked off, the corporate rate cut must be competitive and dramatic or it could drive business overseas even more, as the already lower rates in countries like Ireland and Mexico allows them to undercut an America with no evasion tricks to level the playing field.
As expected, Romney avoided any egregious attack on his competitors, choosing to play the front runner's role and stay above the fray. He handled his tumultuous run to Tampa well, insisting that the party will rally around one candidate, hopefully him, before August and avoiding the tempting potshots.
Like his campaign, Romney's Tonight Show appearance -- while far from a train wreck -- demonstrated his seeming inability to put together a complete game. And while it may not have been the home run derby he should have had with the softballs Leno lobbed him, this latest TV turn was serviceable as proof of a pulse.