We know that no matter who wins the Republican nomination, by this time next year lots of people will be driving cars plastered with bumper stickers, showing up to rallies in, wearing T-shirts, and otherwise really, really into whoever the GOP candidate is. No matter how charisma-challenged, it is the nature of our two-party system to create adoration for presidential nominees. Primary candidates, however, are another matter. And while we know that Mitt Romney has fans -- for more than a year now, a reliable 20-something percent of Republican voters have told pollsters that he's their choice for president -- we can't say we've ever really seen one out in the wild. So we thought we'd do a little exercise: There are tons and tons of Mitt Romney T-shirts for sale (see above) on the Internet. But is there a picture of a person wearing one?
We had two ground rules: the photo had to be from this election cycle and it couldn't be on an official campaign site. And preferably the person should look happy to be wearing a Romney T-shirt. Google Images was no help, although it did introduce us to this T-shirt model. There were a few people on Twitter who said they liked some pro-Romney T-shirt designs, but no pictures of them wearing them. Over on Flickr, we found a picture of an Arizona man wearing Romney stickers on his Red Sox T-shirt on Gage Skidmore's page. But that wasn't quite what we were looking for.
So, how about the news wires? Reuters had a picture of a woman wearing one while serving chili at Romney's campaign announcement in New Hampshire this past June. But we can't tell if she is a campaign staffer or a fan. In any case, she does not look terribly happy, at the moment the picture was taken at least, and it would be tough to call an official campaign event a Romney supporter "in the wild."
The same goes for the guy in Des Moines getting his shirt signed at the Iowa State Fair this past August, although we have the same questions about him as we do the the lady above. This Iowa woman standing outside the debate ahead of the Ames Straw Poll (which Romney sat out
) was the closest we could find. (That's probably a campaign T-shirt, right?)
So if photographic evidence of a Romney enthusiasm is hard to find, what about people writing about it? The least cynical, most bright-eyed fans of things we know of are usually found on college campuses. And indeed college newspapers do note the existence of Romney love on campus. Maggie Cleary runs Students for Romney at Georgetown University. She told The Hoya
in September that the College Republicans can be pretty passionate about their favorite primary candidates. Of the leader of Students for Rick Perry, Cleary said, "Every so often we make snide remarks at each other." That's the kind of mild-mannered G-rated swipe that Romney would love. In New Haven, the Yale Daily News
reported this February that two students were named officers in Students for Romney: Alex Fisher and Richard Lee, both class of 2014. Lee told the paper, Romney's "most conservative potential candidate who actually stands a chance at winning." And that was about the extent of his activism. His name has turned up in no more Romney-related news since then. Fisher, meanwhile, put in a little more effort. He wrote a guest column for the Daily News
a couple weeks later in support of the candidate. His essay
included such stirring appeals as, "Whilst many of his rivals either articulate social policy designed only to please Glenn Beck listeners, or refuse to even engage with the issues at all, Mitt Romney offers a nuanced, moderate and rational perspective on to the issues that matter to millions of Americans."
Ok, then. What about the web, which is built to contain multiudes? The site Ultimitt appears to be the leading place for Romney fans to gather, but the site is pretty quiet. Most of the recent discussion threads are only active because someone is posting spam replies. And its blog roll connects to a bunch of sites that haven't been updated in months or even years, like Utahns for Mitt, the Mitt Romney Encyclopedia. The now defunct Elect Romney in 2008 is the top blog listed. Moms 4 Mitt hasn't been updated since January. Why Romney is a much better-looking site, but it looks like it's meant to promote the "Writings of Ryan" -- as in Ryan Larsen, the founder. His essays include, "A Quick Case for Capitalism." Nothing's happening on the Mitt Romney Fan Club MySpace page. Not much more is going on at the Mitt Romney Meetup page, at right.
The best unofficial Romney site is Mitt Romney Central
. A team of eight
links to stories and Romney press releases, and T-shirts. Most of them became Romney fans in 2007 or 2008, the last time he ran for president.And their endorsements aren't entirely inspiring. Ross Anderson
, for example, lists this the first reason he started backing Romney: "George Romney was a fantastic Governor in Michigan, and his Mormonism didn’t hurt the state in any way." Teammate VoxPatriotica says she was first inspired by a 2008 Romney speech, but she hasn't tweeted
in a year and a half. Dave P. writes, "I had also come to the realization that our government needs to function more like a business from a fiscal responsibility standpoint, and who better to oversee that than a man who has had experience doing just that?" The most enthusiastic poster is Nate Gunderson
, who says he met Romney six times since he became a fan in June 2006. His photo (with a T-shirt!) with the candidate appears to be from the last election, too.
There must be someone out there who loves Mitt Romney. But when The New Republic
's Timothy Noah
called "half a dozen people who have worked closely with Romney over the years in business and politics" for a story on what Romney really believes, only one person would talk with him, and only anonymously. She had worked closely with Romney in the Massachusetts legislature.
She spent most of her time marveling at what a phony he’s been on the campaign trail. "He’s a better person than he is as a Republican candidate," she said. "I think he has very strong values, very strong principles." Example? "He has very strong values about education."
The most fervent Romney supporter we found in any medium was Elsie Rashleger, a 90-year-old former Democrat, who told the Arizona Republic
she remembers presidents going back all the way to Herbert Hoover. She was one of the few people to say they like Romney and not follow it with a "but."
Rashleger said, "I've gone through so many presidents, but I don't like what's going on now ... Something's got to change. I like him (Romney), and I hope I live long enough to see him elected."
For some reason, when people talk about Mitt Romney, they can't help but use romantic metaphors. Republican voters have had brief flings with several other candidates -- Michele Bachmann, Donald Trump, Rick Perry -- but Romney will be the one they settle for, the line goes. "Mitt Romney, never Republicans’ dream date, hopes to be the one they marry," read one Washington Post headline. "Mitt Romney’s an arranged marriage [for Republican voters], but they’d marry Rick Perry for love," Republican consultant Rick Wilson told National Journal. It's clear that Romney lacks a certain charisma. But while some candidates have much more flamboyant fans, Romney's never fallen below less than 20 percent or so in national polls. Some people, somewhere out there, have loved Romney the whole time. Who are those guys?
Links to joyous Romney fans in their gear would be much appreciated.