Through a Mitt darkly

I haven’t seen any commentary on the Web regarding Robert Draper’s New York Times Magazine cover story “Building a better Mitt Romney-bot.” Rachel Nolan’s interview with Draper in “Behind the cover story” serves up a few more of the author’s observations.

Despite the venue and the political orientation of the author, it appears to be a fair story and it is interesting to boot. It is also useful for those of us trying to get a fix on the Romney campaign. The Romney campaign cooperated with the author, up to a point — the point being a one-on-one with the candidate himself.

I come away with a renewed respect for Governor Romney’s strengths as a candidate. He has learned from his failures in the 2008 campaign. I had not previously been aware of campaign media strategist Stuart Stevens or other members of the current campaign team quoted in the story; Draper briefly draws their profiles.

I also come away with a wariness derived from the campaign’s insulation of Romney from the kind of scrutiny Bret Baier was able to give him in the interview on Fox News last week. Those who take consolation from the low comedy of American politcs (I know, I know, it only hurts when you laugh) may also find some material worthy of study in Draper’s article. Draper relates Romney’s remarks on ethanol before an Iowa audience. Romney engages in a nuanced dialectical approach to the issue. Alluding to Stevens’s maxim that “You’ve got to dig the ditch you’re going to die in” — or, less metaphorically, “You have to be willing to lose” — Draper writes:

I watched as the candidate confronted the dicey issue of ethanol subsidies at the Treynor business round table like a man who had no intentions of losing, dying, ditch-digging or anything else except ingratiating. First he stipulated that “I supported the subsidy of ethanol to help get the industry on its feet.” After qualifying that support by saying, “I didn’t feel the subsidy needed to go on forever,” Romney noted that the subsidy was due to expire in December anyway. He qualified that observation by remarking, “I might’ve looked at more of a decline over time. . . .” But, he cheerfully observed, “most people I know in the ethanol industry say, ‘Fine — we’re now up and going.’ ” Lest anyone doubt his commitment, Romney reminded his audience, “For me, ethanol is part of national security — it is part of America developing our own energy. . . . And I would like to see the ethanol industry continue to be successful to grow and to provide a growing share of America’s domestic energy sources.

“And how to do that,” he finished with an unsteady grin, “as Ross Perot used to say, I’m all ears!”

Let no one say he didn’t go all out to win the Iowa caucuses.

Readers who, like me, are still trying to sort their thoughts about the candidates may find Draper’s article to be of interest.

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