On the final day of the presidential campaign, New York Times reporters lament they never really got to know the real Mitt Romney, so they offer this weird observation, and some projection:
"Over the weekend, he took out his iPhone and began to surreptitiously record video of his aides asleep in their seats. As he prowled the cabin, laughing quietly to himself, he seemed to understand that come Tuesday, win or lose, this chapter of his life would be over."
The reaction to this anecdote at The Atlantic Wire was split along gender lines, with women aghast at its creepiness, and men responding more like, "Huh, that's sort of a bro-y thing to do." Nevertheless, the paragraph reflects a question that has obsessed political reporters this presidential campaign and doesn't seem to have been answered: Who is the real Mitt Romney? (These are all different stories at different publications: "The Dark Side of Mitt Romney," "The Real Mitt Romney," "The Real Mitt Romney," "Who Is the Real Mitt Romney?" "Understanding the Real Mitt Romney," "Presidential, Sure, but Who Is the Real Mitt Romney?" "Will the Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up?" "Will the Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up?" The book The Real Romney, written by Boston Globe reporters, was released this year.)
In the context of the hunt for Romney's realness, that Times paragraph, the final detail in one of the final campaign stories, has two distinct parts: There is the factual observation -- Romney chuckling to himself while taping sleeping staffers -- and there is the speculation about what Romney was thinking while he did it -- a nostalgic recognition that their time together was almost over. But we don't actually know that's what Romney was thinking. Maybe he was thinking, "Haha, they snore. This will look awesome on Instagram." Or maybe, "He's clearly in REM sleep because I can see his eyelids move." Or maybe, "Fools, they know not how vulnerable they are." The Times reports that even some aides never figured out what was going on inside his head:
Two years into the race, Mr. Romney’s interior life remains something of a mystery — not just to voters but even to some of his aides. He seems capable of truly unwinding only in the company of his family. He eschews the raucous staff dinners and late-night strategy huddles that are a staple of campaign life. At night, he sometimes eats alone in his hotel room, savoring his solitude over takeout that aides order from nearby restaurants.
The Times' corresponding story about President Obama portrays him much less mysteriously. Obama, in the Times's telling, is getting sentimental about his last campaign, and a little post-modern about it:
"I was backstage with David Plouffe," Mr. Obama told the crowd, referring to his political guru, who looked surprised as he stood offstage. "And we were talking about how, as the campaign goes on, we’ve become less relevant. I’m sort of a prop in the campaign…"