Romney tries to be the next Reagan, even in defeat.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Feb. 11 2008 3:39 PM

When Mitt Met Ralph

Romney tries to be the next Reagan, even in defeat.

80_thehasbeen
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Vincent told Bush that Selig wanted the job for himself. Showing the naive, unfounded optimism that has since become his trademark, Bush replied, "He told me that I'm still his man but that it will take some time to work out."

Fifteen years later, Commissioner Selig must still be working on it. After owners gave him his last contract extension in 2004, Selig all but promised to retire in 2009. He is 73 and will be 78 when his new term runs out in 2012. But now his attitude seems to be that as long as Julio Franco can keep going, so can Bud Selig.

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Selig has plenty of selfish reasons to stay put. He's earning around $15 million, as the sport's fortunes continue a boom that began in the steroid era. Any new commissioner would have every incentive to blame the game's drug problems on his predecessor. Selig would rather stick around to take credit for cleaning up baseball than take the fall as the one under whose nose the game was tarnished.

Selig will soon become the second-longest-serving commissioner ever and may want to try to break Landis's all-time record of 24 years. Judge Landis was hired to rescue baseball after the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Selig has a chance to go in the history books for presiding over both scandal and crackdown.

But perhaps Selig is actually doing the owners a favor by staying. If he left next year, the owners would be under enormous pressure to swallow their friend Bush as his replacement. Considering Bush's unprecedented unpopularity, as well as his expertise in running up losses rather than turning a profit, that would be like the U.S. Olympic Committee deciding in 1981 to tap Jimmy Carter because of his experience with the 1980 boycott. Condi Rice, who wants to be NFL commissioner, faces the same hurdles—her current job isn't going too well, while the job she wants is taken and the sport is doing famously without her.

It's also remotely possible that Selig and the owners are still grooming Bush for the commissioner's job but think he's too toxic to take a chance on until 2012 or later. That would be the ultimate irony of the Bush presidency: Serving as president didn't help his résumé any more than it helped the country. ... 4:18 P.M. (link)

Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2008

Not Bunched Yet: According to his son Tagg, the two years Mitt Romney spent as a Mormon missionary in France were a defining moment in his political life. The poor fellow made his pitch thousands of times but won precious few converts. Watching his win in Michigan on Tuesday, we now know how Romney must have felt in France the day he finally made a sale.

The results in Michigan are bad news for the GOP, which has a vastly better choice in John McCain. But the rest of us can look on the bright side: We still have Mitt Romney to kick around for a while. Viewers at home who dread another season of American Idol can relax, knowing that MittTV will stay on the air for at least a few more weeks.

Romney is nothing if not persistent. When a position gets in his way, he changes it. When he tells voters exactly what they want to hear, and that doesn't work, he moves on to the next state and tells them again.

In Michigan, the Romney campaign worked hard to show the world a New Mitt. Ana Marie Cox of Time wrote, "There was a different Mitt on display this morning. … My first reaction was that *this* is a Mitt that could win a general." That's a stretch, but the New Mitt spin works for a reason—it has been true all along. Like the virgin snow that blanketed Michigan on primary day, he's a New Mitt every morning.

As Jonathan Cohn wisely noted in the New Republic before the vote, this New Mitt reprises many features of the version he kicked his campaign off with several Mitts ago. That Old Mitt ran as a successful entrepreneur with his eye on the future. In his announcement speech, he mentioned "innovation" 11 times and "transformation" another four times. But out on the campaign trail in Iowa, Romney decided to stop talking about transformation and show social conservatives how much he could transform.

Transformer Mitt couldn't get any traction—and in Iowa and New Hampshire, Silver Medal Mitt hit his glass ceiling. That, too, was a familiar role for him: In the 2002 Winter Olympics that launched his political career, the United States brought home more silver medals than any Olympics in our history. But in Iowa and New Hampshire, Romney apparently used his time on the lower pedestal well. He didn't get to give any victory speeches, so he got to hear one. In her New Hampshire comeback speech, Hillary Clinton said she had found her voice. On the stump in Michigan, the Romney campaign began making the same argument—that he, too, had found his voice. Of course, they made no mention of where he found it.

Romney didn't stop there. He focused like a laser beam on the economy. He welled up on the trail. He set out to beat McCain among women. In his victory speech, he claimed his comeback was part of a comeback for America. Don't look now, Republicans, but after Romney spent all that time searching and searching, in Michigan the New Mitt tried to transform himself into Hillary Clinton. At this rate, he might even endorse his own Massachusetts health-care plan.

The highlight of Mitt's Michigan campaign was the kind of moment we Romnologists live for. As Politico reported Monday, Romney held an emotional photo-op over the weekend in the kitchen of an unemployed single mother:

"It means a real tough setting for a mom with two sons," Romney said. "One son is still in high school. Another son [is] getting ready to go off into the police academy in the west."

For a moment, he was able to forget his lucky life and vast fortune long enough to feel her pain. Yet as Politico pointed out, the one thing he neglected to mention was that the woman's son happens to be on the Romney campaign payroll in Michigan.

Michigan was hardly a perfect test. Turnout was light; the Detroit Free-Press sent reporters to blog from polling stations, and many had trouble finding many voters. We still don't know whether Mitt can move voters whose children don't work for him or win primaries in states not shaped like a mitten.

But with Romney's comeback, the conservative crack-up is now complete. The Republican Party has three distinct camps—social conservatives, national-greatness conservatives, and economic conservatives. In the first three key states, each faction can now claim a victory.

The nominee will likely be whichever of the remaining contestants—probably McCain, possibly Romney—manages to lay claim to two out of three of those camps. If that's the case, Romney Bunch fans can rejoice: It may soon be Transformer Mitt's turn to make a comeback. ... 12:22 A.M. (link)

Sunday, Jan. 13, 2008

Tagg and the Gang:Americans across the spectrum have good reason to savor John McCain's heroic comeback, a triumph of principle over opportunism in a party that chose the opposite eight years ago. If McCain holds on to win the nomination, the GOP and the national debate will be better for it.

Still, doing the right thing often comes at a cost: If McCain wins Michigan on Tuesday, America will have to get used to life without the Romneys.

For the past year, the Romney clan has welcomed us into their lives on an unprecedented scale. They had us over for Christmas to see Mitt get out his legal pad and ask his family whether to run. His refreshing wife, Ann, showed us how much she has to put up with. The Five Brothers took us around the country on a MasterCard tour of sporting events, sharing their dumb jokes and fraternal banter. Every step of the way, Tagg revealed family secrets and spoke great truths, rarely on purpose.

Mitt never does anything by accident, but even he has shown his own charm as the hopelessly square dad, a throwback to '60s sitcoms when every normal family was a pretend one. The Romneys was designed to be the most manipulative, invasive, manufactured reality show in political history. In spite of itself, it turned out to be revealing anyway. Like The Office, The Romneys has proved that fake reality TV is better becauseit has a script.

Yet now that we're all hooked, the suits want to pull the plug, just when it was getting good. You can't blame Republican voters for wanting something more authentic, from Mike Huckabee's homespun cornball to McCain's straight talk. But let's face it: Those two are never going to invite a camera crew over to film their Christmas. Well, Huckabee might, but not in a way we'd want to keep watching.

The great irony of Romney '08 is that much of what he wants us to believe—from family values to leadership skills—might well have proved to be real, if he weren't running such a transparently phony campaign that makes everything ring false.

Romney won't let his bid go dark without a fight. He has called for change, welled up with emotion, and embraced the home state he left 40 years ago. He and McCain are tied in the polls in Michigan.

Perhaps trying to tap into viewer nostalgia, the Romney campaign released a new video last week to remind us how much we'll miss the show if it gets canceled. The video, titled "At the Lake With the Romneys," is a curious way to try to revive a struggling campaign. From the first frame, it shows a candidate literally out of season: "This summer, Gov. Romney worked for 31 straight days before taking a day off. This is how he spent that day." In Iowa and New Hampshire, Romney fell short for seeming inauthentic and out-of-touch, a thousand-watt smile when the electorate is looking for grit and conviction. In Michigan, where the economic climate (not to mention the weather) is even chillier, voters might wonder what to make of Mitt aimlessly water skiing his way through a video essay on what he did last summer.

"At the Lake" was released the day after Romney lost New Hampshire, and oddly enough, the whole thing takes place at his vacation home—in New Hampshire. While the premise is Mitt Romney's Day Off, Mitt is no Ferris Bueller. Like his campaign, the video eschews Matthew Broderick for the high-strung manner of Richard Dreyfuss—as son Matt hints when he explains that they're at "Lake Winnipesaukee, from the famed movie What About Bob?"

Wrong state, wrong year, wrong season—and yet, as with any great reality show, even dated episodes of The Romneys are addictive. Every scene perfectly captures Mitt's talent for the ridiculous, as well as the sense of loss we'll all feel without Tagg and the gang in our lives.

Mitt tills the grounds with a tractor (the undocumented immigrants must have had the day off, too). Throngs of grandkids watch him water ski, and once the jet boat goes fast enough, his hair actually moves a little. When his volleyball team scores on a lucky bounce, he jokes, "That's the nature of my life." Lightning strikes, thunder roars, a campfire crackles, and Mitt touts his experience at making s'mores. In the scramble to set off expensive fireworks, he calls one son "you moron!" Moments after Mitt says, "Holy cow!" another son says, "Holy crap!" Then, with nary a buzzword, slogan, or "I approved this message," the video and the fireworks tail off in darkness.

The campaign must be hoping that thousands of Michigan Republicans will reach the last frame and start wailing, "Can this be the end?" While a Romney loss in Michigan will prompt patriotic, high-minded pundits to clink their crystal over the bullet the country just dodged, the low-brow crowd will wonder how to go cold turkey after our yearlong saccharin fix.

Some bloggers are urging Democrats to cross over and vote for Romney in Michigan to keep his campaign alive. I don't love the show that much. Here's a better idea: If the Republican Party fails to see his (comic) potential, Mitt Romney should not lose heart. With his fortune, he could easily bankroll a third- (or, if Bloomberg runs, fourth-) party bid. He won't get far with Republicans or Democrats, but he can target undecided voters with the message, "So am I."

That won't be enough to win the White House, but it will keep the show alive, and tide fans over till Tagg runs for president. With the Writers Guild on strike, the networks are flooding prime time with reality shows, but none like this. Mitt was right about one thing: The Romney Bunch is just too good to be wasted on the Romneys. ... 12:53 P.M. (link)

Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

What Hillary Won: When Harry Houdini barnstormed the country a century ago, his opening act was to escape from a straitjacket while being hanged by his ankles from the top of the local newspaper building. Huge, morbid crowds would gather in the streets below, determined to see him plunge several stories to certain death.

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