Political Animal


September 27, 2011 10:40 AM Mitt Romney, C’est la vie

By Steve Benen

Reader B.A. emailed over the weekend with a question I hadn’t heard before: “Does Mitt Romney speak French?”

I’m not sure why this never crossed by radar screen before, but as it turns out, yes, he does. Romney spent nearly three years living in France doing missionary work in the late 1960s, and he speaks fluent french. Romney’s accent is actually pretty good.

By any reasonable measure, this is, of course, completely irrelevant. There’s nothing wrong with a presidential candidate who can speak more than one language, and the idea that voters would even consider this a negative is ridiculous. But I also recall in 2004 that Republicans thought it was hilarious that John Kerry speaks French, a point some in the GOP used as a point of criticism.

Seven years later, it leads to a strange realization: the likely Republican presidential nominee is a French-speaking Mormon from Massachusetts named Willard.

Jon Chait, who has long argued Romney’s electoral demise is inevitable, appears to be reconsidering the former governor’s chances.

Romney remains wildly vulnerable. Perhaps the latest non-Romney savior Chris Christie will jump into the race. Or perhaps Perry can learn to memorize his cue cards (or take dramatic action to shore up his anti-illegal immigration bona fides). Failing that, we may see a man walk into the nomination of a party whose electorate is dying to vote against him, simply because nobody else could stand in his path without keeling over.

That sounds about right, but it’s still a conclusion I have trouble wrapping my head around.

Romney supported abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants, and combating climate change. He distanced himself from Reagan, attended Planned Parenthood fundraisers, and helped create the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act. Romney was for the bank bailout before he was against it; he was for the stimulus before he was against it; and he was against the auto industry rescue before he took credit for it.

If he wins the nomination, Romney will also have less experience in public service than any major party presidential nominee in the modern political era.

And yet, given the motley crew that’s running against him for the party’s nod, Romney appears to be the party’s safest bet. That does not, however, make this any less odd.

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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  • c u n d gulag on September 27, 2011 11:01 AM:

    The bloom on fat Krispy Kreme Christie won't last long.

    Sure, they love him because he's an asshole. But who's he been an asshole to?
    Women teachers, and old men.
    Uhm, not exactly he-man macho turf there, Chubs!

    You need to go after someone your own size - but the ensuing Blimp Wars would make the crash of the Hindenburg look like a warm day at the beach.
    Besides, IS anyone his own size?

    He's appointed a Muslim judge.
    And he doesn't deny evolution or global warming.

    He needs to do and say those things if he wants to get re-elected, because NJ isn't completely full of uneducated, angry morons, like some districts and states.

    At least, not yet anyway.

  • bleh on September 27, 2011 11:02 AM:

    Romney has always been running to the center, gambling that the money-cons would shut down the crazies and hucksters and mandate the nomination of the candidate more likely to win the general election. (Well, that, and the fact that he had no hope of ever out-crazying the likes of Bachmann or Palin, or out-huckstering the likes of Perry or Pawlenty.

    And a lot of the crazies will vote for him, because even a turncoat Taxachusetts librul in weird underwear is better than a Kenyan socialist Muslim who's trying to destroy America, not that his being black has anything to do with it, I have black friends you know, and besides Alan Keyes is black and Herman Cain is black too so there.

    If it's Romney, the Dems have to work on getting the fundies to do what they used to do until Reagan: stay home, because both sides are spawn of Satan. The models are quite clear on this: if everybody votes, centrism is the optimal strategy, but if there are enough potentially "disaffected voters" at the extremes, it gets more complicated.

  • AMS on September 27, 2011 11:11 AM:

    I remember the ridiculous smearing of John Kerry for speaking French, which reached its apex with Rick Santorum's speech to Catholic Republicans, laying out this chain of unimpeachable logic:

    1. The French are increasingly secular and don't go to church much.

    2. John Kerry speaks French and likes French culture.

    3. Ergo, John Kerry is a godless secular humanist and not to be trusted.


  • Daryl McCullough on September 27, 2011 11:15 AM:

    In my opinion, Romney is the only Republican candidate who could defeat Obama in the general election. That would be a horrible state of affairs, but if it happens, I would console myself that the outcome would be a defeat for the Tea Party, as well. I view the Tea Party as an attempt to purge moderates from the Republican Party, where "moderate" means: willing to work with Democrats to accomplish something, willing to be pragmatic rather than ideological. Romney is definitely a moderate by the Tea Party definition, since as governor of Massachusetts he worked with Democrats and accomplished things like the Massachusetts Health Care system that would be anathema to Tea Partiers.

    So if Obama is defeated, it will mean the end of the Tea Party, as well. At least until the next Kenyan, Muslim, atheist, fascist liberal is elected President.

  • Johnny Canuck on September 27, 2011 11:16 AM:

    It is ironic that in the country to your north, being able to speak both english and french fluently enough to debate in both languages is essential to being the leader of a national political party. So you have middle aged men with political ambitions doing french immersion courses.

    From a Canadian perspective, the most logical expectation would have been for Obama to have learned Spanish in time for the 2012 election. I realize from an American perspective that would probably be an almost disqualifying proof of treason.

  • mellowjohn on September 27, 2011 11:16 AM:

    you should have copyrighted your third-to-last graf, steve. if gov. goodhair's staff have any brains (or at least, more brains than he's shown), they'll have it tattooed on the insides of his eyelids.
    it's what he was trying to say during the last debate, but in english.

  • Danp on September 27, 2011 11:21 AM:

    If Obama spent part of his youth in Indonesia and became a socialist, what happens when you spend part of your youth in France?

  • berttheclock on September 27, 2011 11:23 AM:

    I'm, reasonably, sure Perry's erudite staff will pickup on the line that "Mitt was for Monsieur Pamplemousse's bloodhound, Pommes Frittes, before he was against him".

    In the ranch areas of West Texas, I believe, Gibberish is the preferred language.

  • flounders on September 27, 2011 11:27 AM:

    "Pretty good" is a relative term, but actually that accent is hilarious.

    I talked to some Mormon kids in France a while back, and apparently they get no language training at all. They live communally in apartments with other Mormon kids, and the only French they get to speak is with people frantically trying to avoid them.

  • Chris on September 27, 2011 11:33 AM:

    Here's another startling realization, for all liberal democrats. If you care about preserving the Affordable Care Act, the best possible outcome is an early and clear Republican nomination win for Mitt Romney.

    The ACA is clearly headed to the Supreme Court. It will likely be heard in very late 2011 / early 2012, with a decision rendered as the Supreme Court closes the year in June. And I think they're decision will be mostly political rather than legal. So if Romney is the clear winner in the early spring, they will have to ask themselves do they want to send a clear defeat for both Obama and Romney, as the plans are so closely intertwined.

    My prediction - the Supreme Court throws out the mandate, but nothing else. As such, that's not the death of the law though. The loss of the mandate would damage the law, but it would also damage private insurance greatly, who would be subject to all the regulation of the law without the guarantee of new customers. That would bring a strong incentive to the Republicans to find a fix to it as well.

  • rrk1 on September 27, 2011 11:41 AM:

    A number of my Democratic friends are convinced Romney will get the Rethug nod because they find Perry such a wacko cowboy. Applying logic and reason to our electoral process, such as saying the Republicans aren't suicidal enough to nominate Perry, is something of a joke.

    Both Romney and Perry attract serious money, and the corporate world would be happy with either one of them in the saddle. Perry appeals to the anti-intellectual crowd in a big way, and their vote choices are strictly ignorant, irrational, and emotional. Plus the fundies vote heavily in the primaries, and they don't like Mormons or their underwear.

    My money is still on Perry. Primary voters especially in the south don't care about poor 'debate' performances, or anything besides the fact that he's authentically one of them: a born-again, straight shooting, take no prisoners Texas cowboy. That's what the country needs, they think, and it's what they want.

    Those who expect Christie to ride in on a white horse (poor horse) and wipe out the whole Rethug field with his particular style of bullying straight talk are wasting their time. He isn't delusional about climate change or evolution, and he doesn't wear 19th century religion on his sleeve, and that already is three strikes against him. The coup de grace, however, is his physical image, and image is pretty much everything these days. Teddy Roosevelt, Grover Cleveland, and Taft were all hugely overweight and less than attractive to look at. That was a century ago. By 1920 Harding got elected in part because of his good looks, and we are now in the Scott Brown era where a pretty face makes up for an empty head. So Christie is toast. He should save himself the trouble and keep ruining New Jersey until the voters get rid of him or he drops dead from walking around the block.

  • majun on September 27, 2011 12:01 PM:

    At this point you have to wonder what Romney's biggest weakness is. His religion? His background as a flip flopping politician from Massachusetts? Or his status as a French speaking, Ivy educated elitist?

    That he is even a viable candidate at this point is something of a wonder. He is the candidate with something for every constituency of the GOP far right base to hate.

  • DAY on September 27, 2011 12:11 PM:

    I predict that we will soon see a Republican Loyalty Oath:
    "I do solemnly swear that I do not now, nor have I ever, held a valid U.S. Passport. So help me GOD!"

  • Jim Pharo on September 27, 2011 12:26 PM:

    Have we forgotten that these same people lined up dutifully behind McCain, who they hated so much they pined for Fred Thomson to be their savior. FRED THOMSON.

    'Nuff said. Before too long, Romney will come to seem inevitable, and he will then pivot to bashing the President, and all their little liberal-hating hearts will once again throb with vile.

    Or am I missing something...?

  • Scott Morrison on September 27, 2011 12:32 PM:


    At a time when able-bodied young men 18 to 26 were risking their lives for Uncle Sam in faraway jungles, young Willard received a deferrment in order to conduct noble missionary work in an even more hostile environment. This might have been called "draft dodging" if it had been done by a Democrat, but Willard's father was governor of a major state and a contender for the Republican presidential nomination and therefore he was needed elsewhere for more important work than mere military service. And so it was that young Willard, armed only with his "magic underwear," bravely accepted an the toughest of all possible assignments: to witness among the heathen French in order to convince them to come to the true church of the lost Golden Tablets. I ask you, who had the tougher duty, the grunt chasing Charley through the jungles with an M-16, or young Willard, going door-to-door in that god-awful City of Light trying to convince a nation of flagrant sinners to give up their wine, coffee, Gaulois cigarettes and mistresses? Willard bravely took up the challenge, enduring two whole years of the toughest, most grueling duty imaginable. The man is a brave, self-sacrificing hero and should never be accused of being a "draft dodger."

    Scott Morrison

  • rdale on September 27, 2011 1:10 PM:

    Scott Morrison's comment, above, is hilarious. Here's a Utah perspective, where the mention of Romney's name causes panties to fall and wallets to open. Twice a year the Mormons have a General Conference, held in Salt Lake City by Temple Square (some of us call it Mormodan). The faithful flock by the thousands, and thousands more watch it on the teevee in every LDS church around the world. What they don't show is the religious fundies who show up every year, stand across the street from the Temple, and scream at the attendees that "JESUS HATES MORMONS! YOU ARE GOING TO HELL!" It's like the Westboro church freaks. If Romney gets the nomination, I predict that those people will come out of the woodwork on a national scale. It's true that those same people hate them some black Islamofascistkenyanmooslims more than they hate Mormons, but it's going to be hard for them to vote for anyone in funny underwear.

  • Sid Schwab on September 27, 2011 1:11 PM:

    As it happens, I wrote about the Mittster this morning, too.

  • Redshift on September 27, 2011 1:17 PM:

    That would be a horrible state of affairs, but if it happens, I would console myself that the outcome would be a defeat for the Tea Party, as well.

    I wouldn't count on that consolation. If he's forced to pick a TPer as a VP candidate, they might not love him, but it would keep it from being the end of them.

    Then again, Romney is a corporatist through and through, so the billionaires who pumped up the Tea Party to try to stop the Obama Administration from being able to regulate or tax them may cut off the money stream to them if Romney is nominated. There's a long history in the GOP of getting the crazies riled up for elections while intending to do nothing for them (the Religious Right being the classic example.)

  • ckelly on September 27, 2011 1:23 PM:

    French! FRENCH! That's a deal breaker.
    Au Revoir Msr Romney.

  • Bob on September 27, 2011 4:48 PM:

    Somehow all talk of legal action toward the "Bankers Who Brought Down the Economy" has been extinguished. Does this mean the Northern/Wall Street Money will now dominate the Southern/Evangelical Money? Mitt is desperately wanted by WS, and will pay for him. Perry was very funny to watch, but the Southern money types are scary and serious. They are still searching for the anti-Mitt. Is this the proverbial "rock and hard place" for the Core Repubs?

  • ArcPolitic on September 27, 2011 10:33 PM:

    I have read many GOP Election 2012 articles over the last few years and this is by far the most bias review of any candidate to date.

    Yes, Steve Benen is obviously nesting with donkeys. There is a list, longer list in fact, than the list he has laid out against Romney for every single one of the other candidates or anyone that would run for president.

    The true source of Romney's success is the fact that he is an intelligent, hard working, christian. He appeals to the public and he is the only one that can save America. Forget that he is a Mormon (which is not a bad thing in any respect if you know two cents about Mormons), forget that he flip flopped on a few social issues, and forget that he setup Romneycare. None of these things matter one wit to what America is facing and those who focus on these things are obviously self interested individuals who only want someone in office that will open the doors to their individual profit. Romney is also not unsupported in the republican party as this article states. He is highly supported and funded. He is not robbing people of their money, but being given it by people who support him. Say that he has raised the most money speaks this plainly.

    Romney will win the nomination because he is who America needs right now. Period!

  • ArcPolitic on September 27, 2011 10:38 PM:

    And to address rdale,

    You are about as intelligent as a rock. This article is not about basing Mormons (Steve doesn't even do that) but rather, about politics which you obviously know nothing about. No one cares if a few nut jobs scream foul language at some church convention. everyone hates everyone in a religious respect. Open your eyes and look past your bigoted views.