A lot of conservatives think Mitt Romney's record will offer a clear contrast with President Obama's, but what they don't dwell on is that the two men's personality flaws are almost exactly the same. In The Real Romney, a book out next week and excerpted by Vanity Fair, Michael Kranish and Scott Helman write:
"If Romney is exceedingly comfortable around family and close friends, he's much less so around those he doesn't know well, drawing a boundary that's difficult to traverse. It's a strict social order -- us and them -- that has put co-workers, political aides, casual acquaintances, and others in his professional circles, even people who have worked with or known him for years, outside the bubble. As a result, he has numerous admirers but, by several accounts, not a long list of close pals... He has little patience for idle chatter or small talk, little interest in mingling at cocktail parties, at social functions, or even in the crowded hallway. He is not fed by, and does not crave, casual social interaction, often displaying little desire to know who people are and what makes them tick."
Teagan Goddard notes that Romney "sounds almost exactly as President Obama has been described." Obama has had the aloof loner image for a long time, and it hasn't changed.
- In the final 2008 presidential debate, Time's Mark Halperin wrote that at times, Obama looked "petty, aloof, imperious" and like he thought "he had someplace better to be."
- In the summer of 2010, The New York Times' Maureen Dowd said Obama's relationship with reporters was not "lovey-dovey." Instead, "on the campaign plane, I would watch Obama venture back to make small talk with the press, discussing food at an event or something light. Then I would see him literally back away a few moments later as a blast of questions and flipcams hit him."
- Last October, The Washington Post's Scott Wilson hadn't tried to make friends in Washington. "Obama’s circle of close advisers is as small as the cluster of personal friends that predates his presidency. There is no entourage, no Friends of Barack to explain or defend a politician who has confounded many supporters with his cool personality and penchant for compromise."
When Rick Perry entered the race -- before he said "oops" -- conservatives fantasized about contrasting his persona with Obama's. It was so obvious you could show it with a pair of pictures: a square-shouldered young Perry by a military aircraft, next to a cool young Obama slouching against a wall and smoking a cigarette. Liberals feared it would be a version of the 2004 election -- manly George W. Bush vs. effete John Kerry -- but worse. In this "Which candidate would you rather have a beer with?" primary, like Kerry, Obama would be toast. But that version of the 2012 election now looks very unlikely.
And a nice contrasting image doesn't exist for Romney. Young Romney was thin and rich and did not do manual labor. As for the current Romney, Obama's weaknesses are his weaknesses: cold, aloof, technocratic, not very good at chit-chat. So if Romney's the nominee -- and it looks like the Republican primary is heading in the at direction -- the campaigns would have an awkward fight over the small differences in personality. In reaching out to regular Americans, which is worse, the snob or the poseur? Obama infamously said that people who've been adversely affected by economic policy cling to their guns and religion. But Romney infamously claimed to be an avid hunter, of "small varmints, if you will." In reality he'd only been hunting twice, and, obviously, who says "varmints" but Yosemite Sam?