Political Animal


August 11, 2011 1:15 PM When Romney leaves his script

By Steve Benen

About a month ago, we learned Mitt Romney’s campaign is scripted to an almost comical extent. Every possible detail “has been meticulously choreographed,” in part to help the Republican candidate improve his image, and in part to help shield the awkward former governor from embarrassing slip-ups.

Occasionally, Romney interacts with real people who aren’t part of the meticulous choreography. And that’s when the ostensible GOP frontrunner gets into trouble. Here’s Romney campaigning in Iowa this morning, for example, following a shouting match with hecklers concerned about taxes and entitlements.

“Corporations are people, my friend,” Romney said in response to suggestions that big businesses should pay more. He added, “Of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people.”

At that moment, a whole lot of political and media professionals, all at the same time, whispered to themselves, “Well, that’s going to show up in a campaign ad sometime soon.”

Part of the problem with this is the phrasing, since “corporations are people” doesn’t exactly scream “man of the people.” Another part is the context: polls show the American mainstream supports higher taxes on wealthy corporations (many of which use loopholes and shelters to avoid much, if not all, of their responsibilities) to help reduce the debt and finance programs like Medicare. Romney is pushing back against this notion because, as he put it, “corporations are people.”

C-SPAN has a 24-minute clip that offers significantly more context, which is also worth watching. Romney, who’s never been especially adept at retail politics, obviously seems rattled by confrontational questions.

And that leads to the larger point: Romney’s been running for president non-stop for nearly five years, but he’s still not good at the whole “personal interaction” thing. Just over the past few months, we’ve seen several examples — the jokes about being “unemployed” in Florida; the fake butt-pinch in New Hampshire, the $100 bill in Colorado — that reinforce the belief talking and relating to people just doesn’t come naturally to Romney.

If Democrats are eager to characterize Romney as a weird guy who isn’t comfortable in his own skin, the former governor actually seems eager to help reinforce the theme.

The Boston Herald, a tabloid in Romney’s old hometown, recently ran this cover that you’re likely to see again:

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • DAY on August 11, 2011 1:27 PM:

    I caught the tail end of the live C-SPAN bit. I thought is was quite telling that his witty repost to several hecklers was "They showed up early, to get a good seat down front, and ask questions."

  • Holmes on August 11, 2011 1:30 PM:

    Romney had a 35% approval rating when he left the Governor's office. No one liked him, which is why he didn't seek reelection.

    Give him more time in front of the American people, to remind them why he couldn't beat McCain, and I suspect we'll see Perry's crazy ass get the nomination.

  • DJ on August 11, 2011 1:31 PM:

    Another unforced error for Willard...

    With him and the lunatics Bachmann and Perry, it seems that President Obama, like President Clinton, is most lucky in the lack of quality in his enemies.

  • martin on August 11, 2011 1:35 PM:

    Fine, if corporations are people, let's tax them the same as people.

  • Josef K on August 11, 2011 1:41 PM:

    This guy is going to get himself killed. Anybody this out-to-permanent-lunch should not be allowed out in public without a leash, a muzzle, and leg irons.

  • bobbo on August 11, 2011 1:43 PM:

    Yep, off script. What he meant to say was "Corporations are my friends, people."

  • C&L Emo-Trollop infighter on August 11, 2011 1:44 PM:

    Wow, this is priceless!!
    What a maroon!

  • c u n d gulag on August 11, 2011 1:46 PM:

    "Fill-in the _________________________ Mitt" always seems to draw a blank when he's asked a question he's not been totally schooled for.

    Let the "Obama only knows how to speak 'cause he uses a teleprompter" cries of projection go forth.

    And if corporation were people, they'd be considered to be sociopaths.
    And they're run by sociopaths.

  • lou on August 11, 2011 1:51 PM:

    Road to the nut house.

  • Ron Byers on August 11, 2011 1:54 PM:

    Somebody needs to remind Mitt that Soylant Green is people too.

  • lou on August 11, 2011 1:54 PM:

    But on the other hand, he is reading the script -- of SCOTUS.

  • Grumpy on August 11, 2011 2:03 PM:

    "Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people."

    Sure! It's just a question of which people. Likewise, everything government spends ultimately goes to people, as surely as a tax rebate. Just a question of who gets it.

  • dalloway on August 11, 2011 2:05 PM:

    Wow. Mitt's more awkward than Michael (Snoopy in the Tank) Dukakis or John (Reporting for Duty) Kerry. Of course, it doesn't matter because he won't be the nominee. Rick Perry will, because, among other things, he's very comfortable in his own very white but not-too-bright skin. And come to think of it, that pretty well describes his party -- not Republican but Tea.

  • Objective Dem on August 11, 2011 2:06 PM:

    People use to worry about communists, aliens from outer space and robots taking over humanity and turning us into their slaves. I think corporations have already succeeded.

  • estamm on August 11, 2011 2:08 PM:

    I certainly can't stand Mittens, but my hunch is that what he was meaning was not the 'corporations are people' in the SCOTUS meaning, but more of a 'corporations are made up of people'. Kinda like 'when we hurt corporations we really hurt the people that work for the corporation'. Of course, when he killed those companies he bought out, he obviously was not thinking of the people who worked for those companies....

  • Anonymous on August 11, 2011 2:09 PM:

    Part of the problem with this is the phrasing, since “corporations are people” doesn’t exactly scream “man of the people.”

    But look at it from his perspective, Steve. If corporations are people, then Mitt Romney is the greatest populist in American history. He's William Fucking Jennings Bryan out there!

  • Kane on August 11, 2011 2:13 PM:

    And this is the guy that is going to beat Obama? In your dreams.

  • Skip on August 11, 2011 2:15 PM:

    So the people scripting him are better qualified to be running for president.

  • Daddy Love on August 11, 2011 2:18 PM:

    Seriously. Corporations are people, but the government isn't, even though we ELECT our government representatives from among us?

    These people are passing strange, 'tis true.

  • David on August 11, 2011 2:27 PM:

    "Everything corporations earn eventually goes to people." He means the people on Wall Street. You know, his friends!

  • Kane on August 11, 2011 2:27 PM:

    He's got McCain's "my friend" down pat.

  • T2 on August 11, 2011 2:30 PM:

    In 2008 Mitt stood toe to toe with McCain while McCain lied straight into his face for about five minutes. All Mitt could do was smile. He's gonna be in trouble against Perry.

  • David on August 11, 2011 2:38 PM:

    @Martin. "Fine, if corporations are people, let's tax them the same as people."

    And when they commit capital crimes, let's execute their CEOs.

  • retr2327 on August 11, 2011 2:42 PM:

    "Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people."
    Well, IIRC, Apple is currently sitting on about 70 billion in cash. Define "ultimately" . . .

    And his claim to fame is that he's a businessman? Does he not understand the concept of "retained" earnings?

  • Andrew on August 11, 2011 2:42 PM:

    If the Obama team thinks Mittens is going to be the nominee, they need to rethink their strategy. Mittens is going to destroy himself LONG before the convention.

  • Kane on August 11, 2011 2:51 PM:

    First question in tonight's debate: Do you agree with Romney that corporations are people, or do you agree with President Obama who says that corporations are not people?

  • CalStateDisneyland on August 11, 2011 2:55 PM:

    He won a governship as a Republican in a Democrat state, so I don't think his campigning skills can be competely written off.

  • M. Bouffant on August 11, 2011 3:45 PM:

    They were right: He is weird.

  • Doctor Biobrain on August 11, 2011 4:15 PM:

    If Democrats are eager to characterize Romney as a weird guy who isn't comfortable in his own skin, the former governor actually seems eager to help reinforce the theme.

    Come on, Benen. There's no reason to bring his religion into all this.


  • Bernard HP Gilroy on August 11, 2011 4:39 PM:

    If corporations "are people" in that all money to goes to corporations eventually ends up at people, then isn't government "people" in exactly the same sense?

    The problem with the rabid right is they think a dollar bill has a memory and can tell if it was spent by a corporation or a person or a government agency. But of course, a dollar bill is just a dollar bill. It buys one dollar's worth of stuff no matter who offers it.

  • Old Uncle Dave on August 11, 2011 4:54 PM:

    Corporations are special people that don't have to eat, sleep, or die and don't go to prison when they commit crimes.

  • Cha on August 12, 2011 3:20 AM:

    The corporations are throwing money into doing away with Workers' Rights, so no their money isn't going into the People's pockets. It's going into the CEOs'.

    Not all corporations are greedy, evil derelicts but too many pour money into republicon politicians' pockets like Mitt so they don't have to pay their fair share of taxes.

    Where did those Million $$$ Donations come from, Mitt? Good question to ask him at his next stop.

  • yellowdog on August 12, 2011 6:15 AM:

    As someone once wrote, the power of the presidency is persuasion. The president can do things unilaterally as commander in chief, but if he/she expects to do much outside of that sphere, it usually has to be by persuasion. That means a lot of deal-making, arm-twisting, and strategizing about how to get other people to go along with your plans. Can Mitt do that? If he is being scripted this heavily, one wonders. Certainly, you cannot script out the presidency. What is Romney going to say when the call comes about a nuclear accident in Japan or a developing crisis in Egypt or when Bernanke comes calling with a bad economic report? Wait for his staff to write him a script? One thing presidents ought to be able to do is think on their feet.