Ruminations on Romney

I was wrong about Mitt Romney.

Before the first debate hosted by MSNBC, I predicted the forums would benefit the handsome Massachusetts Republican who’s been described as “slick” in the media  because A) they would give him the national exposure he wasn’t getting (indeed, he’s getting attention, though to little avail nationally); and B) because I thought he was a better communicator than the other candidates.

Tonight, however, I admit I was wrong. In fact, I would judge tonight’s performance as Romney’s worst of the three debates held to date. On the matter of his Spanish-language ads, the governor proved incapable of thinking on his feet. He failed to answer a fairly innocuous question posed by a member of the audience, who asked Romney why he is airing campaign ads in Spanish if he believes English should be the nation’s official language.

Romney, caught off guard by the alleged “flip-flop” (I would argue it’s not a contradiction, though Romney didn’t even challenge the premise of the question), went into sound-bite mode with a prefabricated answer to a question that wasn’t asked. It came off as confusing.

Every media coach will tell you, answer the question you wish you’d been asked. That’s fine for a three-minute cable news interview, but not for a presidential debate.

And speaking of media coaching, Romney appears to have perfected the “Blue Steel” male-model pose made famous in the comedy hit “Zoolander,” starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. He flashed that “Blue Steel” stare of his most ardently as Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) gave the final answer of the evening. Perhaps this look of Romney’s works in the board room, but I found it annoying —almost condescending — by the end of the evening.

Dramatic stares and poses aside, Romney’s continual use of sound bites and catch phrases rather than meaningful answers has been disappointing. In response to one of the opening questions about what America’s policy should be if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, Romney initially said he wouldn’t take any options off the table, then pivoted into what I can only assume is going to be a slogan we’ll hear repeatedly from this candidate, which is that the U.S. should “move Islam toward modernity.”

That was a very un-serious answer to a very serious question. And it proves I was wrong about Romney’s ability to demonstrate his credentials as a potential leader of the greatest nation on earth. But that’s what these debates are all about: putting our candidates to the test and sifting the wheat from the chaff.

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