Mitt Romney's awkwardness on the stump has become a persistent theme in the 2012 primary season. He sings usually off-key patriotic ditties, and makes asides as when he called the Southern primaries an "away game." It might make not a few Republican consultants cringe at the seeming regularity in which Romney goes off-message.
But there might be a hint of shrewdness in these alleged gaffes. For instance in Tennessee, Romney came in for a little razzing because he sang the Davy Crockett theme. Personally, I believe Romney would have been better off singing "Rocky Top," a sure winner in the Volunteer State, but the invoking of the Fess Parker show was in fact a good call. As a child, I remembered a jingle about pigs joyously wanting to become processed pork and a song about Smith Douglas Fertilizer. Perhaps Romney realizes that invoking television nostalgia specifically from the late 1950s and early 1960s might be wise.
Certainly it is not offensive and in many respects quite endearing. In most of the cases, you find yourself laughing with Mitt rather than at him. Indeed any mid-American humor seems to draw scorn in that it is more wholesome than hilarious.
Chris Matthews made a big deal about Romney's crowds appearing like "androids" simply because they were restrained and orderly cheering their hero. To be reserved used to be the standard of behavior at all events, not just political rallies.
For quite a few Americans, Romney's style might prove a comfort in an age of exhibitionism and overstatement.
Too often sophistication is seen as disdain. Romney for his cultural critics appears stiff and scripted. But maybe they like it that way. Richard Nixon made a living off what he called "the squares." This was not meant as a criticism, but a celebration of solidity.
For too many Americans, society is way too interested in the so-called cool and clever.
Ronald Reagan, although now remembered as the "great communicator," was scorned for presumably making off-the- wall statements. When he called Vietnam "a noble cause" five years after Saigon fell to the Communists, it was widely seen as a mistake. In November 1980, it was proven not to have hurt, but marginally helped Reagan to win the presidency.
Almost everything Reagan said was open to scrutiny, and in each case, he came out ahead.
Politics reflect a vision of what people want their lives to represent - bad jokes, rhetorical slips or whatever. If they are made in an open spirit, they are rarely dismissed as inappropriate. It plays to the vulnerable in all of us. Romney knows this and he knows his voters.
Nixon wore a tie everywhere, sometimes on the beach, Reagan went around Darlington raceway in a suit. No attempt was made to be one of the crowd - it was a gesture of appreciation done in their own way and on their own terms.
Whether or not his critics know it, Romney is quite comfortable being Mitt.
Now that does not excuse Romney on policy, but it is a warning that Democrats should not think they can ridicule him to defeat. Every time the Democratic Party tries to emphasize style and not substance against the GOP, they lose.
Many voters are not sold on who is the most articulate or witty.
If Romney is to be defeated, he needs to be confronted on the issues, not on his presumed social discomfort.