My dad told me a story about Mitt Romney when the would-be president had yet to be a would-be senator, then governor, then presidential candidate. Dad worked as a dispatcher for Summit County in Utah, home of Park City and also many of the 2002 U.S. Olympic venues. It was also Romney’s home (at least one of them) during the Olympic buildup.
Romney was home when the fire alarm went off. Fire department crews went to the house and Romney was there, outside, to greet them to shoo them away. There was no fire, he said. Local rules, however, required fire crews to inspect a property where fire alarms went off. Romney wasn’t having it. I don’t know how the incident eventually ended, whether crews were able to get in. I do know he tried to stop them. And I know what my dad says the fire crews said about Romney: that he was a first-class jerk.
If Romney were elected president, I doubt he would be the least likeable president we ever had. And if this New Republic piece, Temperamental Journey, is to be trusted, Romney is not always a jerk, he just has a temper. The piece points out that Romney criticized John McCain for his, so bad on you, Mitt, for seeing the mote without recognizing the beam.
This whole issue, I have to admit, is personally grating to me. I hate abusive bosses. (For the record my bosses now are sheer delights.) I have had abusive bosses. Because of my own sense of self-awesomeness I don’t take well to overly harsh criticism. I’ve been verbally smacked by a boss several times before when I deserved it and I knew it. In those cases I took it well. Also in those cases I never got the sense that those bosses believed they were superior to me, aside from their titles. When it got me riled was when I believed the boss was either inept, condescending or obviously uneven in the application of discipline.
Duke University scientists (I’m a Carolina fan, but I’ll give credit where it is due here.) determined almost half of the U.S. Presidents through Nixon had some form of mental illness. I think it certainly requires a bit of narcissism to even run for president, but mental illness will do. In some it was a good trait to have.
Maybe being a jerk is a good trait. More troubling, perhaps, about Mitt’s actions in these minor instances is that it might suggest he believes the rules don’t apply to him. Those firefighters were obeying the law, it inconvenienced him and it made him angry, so much so that he at least tried to get them to not obey it themselves. The same thing, according to the New Republic piece, happened during the Olympics.
This may get to the core of the reality as to why Republicans continue to seek an alternative to Romney. Sure there are many who believe he hasn’t been a true conservative on social and fiscal issues. And if it comes down to Romney versus Obama, those critics will hold their noses in Nov. 2012 and vote for Romney anyway. But Romney is lacking some regular guy cred. He just doesn’t seem like a guy you’d ever want in your house, for fear he might yell at your kid for leaving the spoon in the hot chocolate cup.
Contrast that with another experience my father had. My dad, as a cop, worked an event for then California Gov. Ronald Reagan. No cop complained about Reagan. They loved Reagan. My dad loved Reagan. In large part it was because Reagan didn’t show any indication he was looking down on the cops working that event. Perhaps Reagan could be a jerk. But on the one occasion my dad’s paths crossed with his, the man came off well. Romney, not so much, and that may be the biggest thing that keeps him from the presidency. Romney’s personality wouldn’t make those who are solidly opposed to retaining the current president from marking “Obama” on their ballots. It might motivate some who are less solid to skip the election completely.
UPDATE: Allow me to refer you to the story from the New York Times, Republican Leaders Still Seem Torn About Romney.
On the one hand this could represent ridiculous expectations by the New York Times, given that we haven’t even had the Iowa caucus yet. Why wouldn’t the party seem torn? It’s supposed to be torn. It used to be torn all the way to the convention and sometimes even through the eventual nominee’s convention speech.
On the other hand the story reflects the growing reality of presidential politics, that many battles are settled long before the official contests begin.
What I think back up my case is the sense that I don’t get a real sense of excitement about Romney, not from anyone. That doesn’t mean he’s a jerk, as my column suggests. It just means no one sees the man as they saw Reagan or Obama or Hillary Clinton. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul have their passionate backers, but I don’t see it in Romney fans.