Mitt Romney declared last month, to some incredulity, that he owns several guns. But what he really needs is a stiletto.
That's what has occurred to me this week while watching Romney try mightily to capitalize on President Obama's hot-mic moment with Dmitri Medvedev in South Korea, in which Obama was overheard asking Medvedev to give him some "space" on missile defense discussions until after the November election, when he would have more "flexibility." Most everyone on the right has jumped on this -- the Wall Street Journal put a big photo of Obama and Medvedev on its front page yesterday, and its editorial page warned darkly today that Obama's "flexibility" in a second term would surely extend to his trying to "unleash the EPA and other regulators that he has restrained somewhat (the ozone rule) " and "use his executive powers to further empower labor unions."
But no one has milked the hot-mic as much as Romney. He started right off with the dread scenario of Obama seeking to negotiate away the country's national security on fronts other than missile defense: "Now when the president of the United States is speaking with the leader of Russia saying he can be more flexible after the election, that is an alarming and troubling development. This is no time for our president to be pulling his punches with the American people. And not telling us what he’s intending to do with regards to our missile defense system, with regards to our military might and with regards to our commitment to Israel and with regard to our absolute conviction that Iran must (sic) have a nuclear weapon." He took it a step further soon afterward, declaring on CNN that Obama's exchange with Medvedev was so alarming because Russia "is without question our number one geopolitical foe."
This last assessment drew a rebuke from Medvedev and ridicule from the Obama campaign, among others. But Romney's remarks on this front should also be a cause of concern for his campaign, because they were just the latest sign of a flaw in the candidate that has gone relatively unnoticed among his many other shortcomings: a striking lack of deftness. The best politicians are capable not only of the sharp uppercut to the opponent's jaw but also of the tweak, the slipping of the shiv that is no less devastating for the unobtrusiveness of the gesture. In fact, this is one thing that Obama has in common with Ronald Reagan, his sometimes-model on the right -- the ability to strike with a wry smile. Romney, so far, shows no sign whatsoever of this capacity. This is not to say that Romney entirely lacks a sense of humor; if you think fake butt-pinches are funny, he's hilarious, and he managed to work in a few cracks on Leno last night. It's that with him, it's always all or nothing -- attacks or panders, everything comes at full volume. He's "severely conservative." Obama wants to "fundamentally transform America." He loves cheesy grits in the South and the right-sized trees in Michigan. And so on. The hot-mic moment presented an ideal opportunity for a twist of the knife, but instead he brought out the howitzer. MSNBCs' First Read put it well:
Romney appeared to take Obama’s hot-mic remark a bit too far. Instead of having fun with it, he made the hot-mic comment seem like a nefarious and sinister plot. It’s yet another reminder that Romney isn’t the world’s most nimble political candidate. The hot-mic remark was a fastball down the middle -- to demonstrate some pop in his bat -- and Romney hit a grounder to third.
It's yet another reason to believe that, as I argued a few weeks ago, Willard Mitt Romney might've been better off not following his dad's advice. More time spent on the "real streets of America" and less time in the Bain boardroom might've made him nimbler when these opportunities arise.
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