Mitt the Invisible: Vanishing at the Tampa National Convention

A failed renovation, a paltry effort – that, at least, is the verdict of the Republican National Convention so far for convention junkies.  Wherever one looks in Tampa for the anointed one, Mitt Romney is buried deep in the painful choreography and barely present.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s reasoning on Romney’s character, at least as to how it is perceived, is discomforting.  (This, coming from a figure who posed the enlightening question back in 2007 whether Mormons believed that Jesus and the devil were brothers.)  In words to Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast, “If you’ve just been diagnosed with a brain tumour, you honestly don’t care if your neurosurgeon is a jerk.”  Many would disagree.

If Huckabee had been saddled with the job of linking the evangelicals and Romney in a grandiose display of GOP love, it can’t be said to have been very successful.  It became, instead, a display of eccentric antipathies.  Obama was that “self-professed evangelical” inclined to believe “that human life is disposable and expendable at any time in the womb or even beyond the womb.” (Incidentally, all Presidents have believed, as stewards of empire, in the disposability of human life at their own convenience, be it by means Huckabee suggests, or by drones and vassals.)

With such a character reference, little wonder that Romney, in whatever form, dosage or manner, received little in terms of coverage.  Banished to the idiosyncratic index of convention proceedings, his promoters sounded more like candidates in waiting, or at least candidates of foolishness.

Few came close in that regard than former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), who likened President Obama to a big tattoo one had with regret.  Escaping the orbit of terra firma with cosmic speed, Pawlenty then demonstrated how much of his extensive intellect is spent before cable television.  “The president takes more vacations than that guy on the Bizarre Foods show.”

Other speakers, instead of boosting and massaging the Romney persona, lapsed into narcissistic and confessional mode.  Gov. Chris Christie spoke of his mother; Santorum babbled about his coal-mining grandfather and the presence of the only government benefit for immigrants in 1923: freedom.

The supreme task of talking about the person last on the list of worthy subjects was Ann Romney.  Anointed chief reviver of her husband’s fortunes, she smiled with her milky white fangs enclosed in red-lipstick mouth and spoke about the young man she met and married.  Even her effort at defrosting Romney fell flat before the audience.

At this advanced point of proceedings, Romney the man is absent, a figure with about as much visible worth as a taxidermist experiment.  This might be part of a cunning GOP strategy – not mentioning the person you want to be president might be a stroke of counterintuitive genius.  Invisibility makes the heart grow fonder; vanishing, even more so.  Unfortunately, it has to work among the converts, who aren’t exactly warming to Mitt the Invisible.

The theme into day three of the convention has not changed in its decidedly non-Romney focus, with GOP figures such as Condoleezza Rice trumpeting the stock standard line used during the Bush administration.  As usual, Rice nurses the bully’s wet dreams of supremacy in the children’s playground – “we cannot,” she warned delegates, “be reluctant to lead, and you cannot lead from behind.”

And, ever consistent with the ham fisted approach to international relations, Rice advocated working “for an open global economy and pursue free trade to grow our exports and our influence abroad.”  That an open global economy is fictitious, or that free trade is actually far from free did not take the sting out of the display. More significantly, it further eclipsed the Romney-Ryan showcase.

As Gail Collins, writing in the New York Times (August 29) suggested, “We may never figure out the inner life of the Republican presidential candidate.  But we are going into the fall campaign knowing a whole lot more about the relatives of major Republican office holders.”

David Brooks, in the same paper, was biting. Screening the scanty biographical details of the presidential challenger, he could find little to go on from what had been said.  “He was given the name Mitt, after the Roman god of mutual funds, and launched into the world with the lofty expectation that he would someday become the Arrow shirt man.”

The running headline at the Miami Herald was a query: “Convention question: Will they get relaxed Romney or stiff Romney?”  Evidence points to stiffness and numbing script. Come Thursday, Romney the invisible will appear. Sadly for the GOP, like a machine following prompts, he will seem dry, rehearsed and cold.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: Read other articles by Binoy.