Mitt Romney has at least two widely perceived flaws as a presidential candidate: He's an inveterate flip-flopper, and he's stiffly robotic. The Romney campaign doesn't buy the first characterization, and the second one is less a flaw than a deliberate strategy, writes Robert Draper who interviewed Romney's team for a long piece in The New York Times Magazine. Instead of trying to turn a "smart and highly qualified but largely colorless" Mormon into a guy you'd like to have a beer with, Team Romney has made its candidate "exquisitely one-dimensional: All-Business Man, the world's most boring superhero." Here, 5 key points from Draper's "Building a Better Mitt Romney–Bot" profile:
1. The "Romney-Bot" strategy is deliberate
In his 2008 run, Romney held about 200 freewheeling "Ask Mitt Anything" sessions with voters, featured his five sons at his campaign stops, and tried hard to win over skeptical social conservatives. It didn't work. This time, Draper writes, his campaign is betting that it's alright for Romney to be an extremely wealthy, "socially awkward Mormon with squishy conservative credentials," because "recession-weary voters want a fixer, not a B.F.F." So the 2012 game plan is to eschew spontaneity, keep it brief, keep Romney "tightly contained in the business-centric pocket," and "hop[e] to God that he does not stray from it.
2. The strategist behind the drab Romney persona is a colorful eccentric
Masterminding this less-is-more plan is Romney's chief strategist, Stuart Stevens, a Mississippi native "as wry, eclectic, and mussed in appearance as his boss is earnest and buttoned up." Stevens has worked on several big campaigns, mostly for "non-ideological Republicans," but he's also dabbled in Hollywood, writing an episode of the TV show Northern Exposure and consulting on movie projects for George Clooney. Producing ads for Romney in 2008, he noticed that the candidate had too many cooks in the kitchen. Stevens has streamlined the 2012 campaign — and persuaded Romney, an English major, to give up writing his own speeches.
3. The bland technocrat theme extends to Romney HQ
Romney's national campaign headquarters is an "unmarked three-story waterfront building" in Boston's North End that was supposed to be demolished after his 2008 run. "The equally bleak panorama inside — grimy industrial carpet, halfhearted wall adornments, and the occasional piece of paper taped to a door announcing that the person inside is in charge of 'Strategy' or some such," says Draper, "is a testament both to a campaign's tunnel vision and to the fact that the wealthy Romney is a rather tightfisted fellow."
4. Stevens fears Obama's campaign more than the GOP rivals
The serial implosions of Romney's GOP rivals has left his team looking smart. In fact, Draper observes, Stevens doesn't seem "terribly intimidated" by any of the other contenders — Rick Perry reminds him of "the townies in the early scenes of The Deer Hunter who go loping into Vietnam expecting to kick butt." But Stevens calls President Obama's team "the best campaign organization ever put together."
5. The risk-minimizing strategy carries its own risk
Stevens and the Romney team think their "strategy of underwhelming force" will play well against the "once-dazzling Obama," Draper says. From their point of view, an electorate that feels burned by its "failed romance with the One" will be ready to "settle on Mitt Romney as the One Who Won't Break Your Heart." But distancing Romney from his own life and his human side allows others to fill in the blanks, notes Maggie Haberman in Politico. And Romney is already "being defined aggressively by Democrats and GOP rivals as a 'flip-flopper,'" even as his team is "insisting he is best known for 'constancy.'"