He’s kind of lame, and he’s really … annoying. He keeps saying these … things, these incredibly off-key things. Then he apologizes immediately—with all the sincerity of a hostage. Or maybe he doesn’t: sometimes he whines about the subsequent attacks on him. But the one thing he never does? Man up, double down, take his lumps.
In 1987, this magazine created a famous hubbub by labeling George H.W. Bush a “wimp” on its cover. “The Wimp Factor.” Huge stir. And not entirely fair—the guy had been an aviator in the war, the big war, the good war, and he was even shot down out over the Pacific, cockpit drenched in smoke and fumes, at an age (20) when in most states he couldn’t even legally drink a beer. In hindsight, Poppy looks like Dirty Harry Callahan compared with Romney, who spent his war (Vietnam) in—ready?—Paris. Where he learned … French. Up to his eyeballs in deferments. Where Reagan saddled up a horse with the masculine name of El Alamein, Mitt saddles up something called Rafalca—except that he doesn’t even really do that, his wife does (dressage). And speaking of Ann—did you notice that she was the one driving the Jet Ski on their recent vacation, while Mitt rode on the back, hanging on, as Paul Begala put it to me last week, “like a helpless papoose”?
Yes, of course Willard is a wimp. Hey, he doesn’t even have the guts to admit to use his own first name! The only time Mitt feels tough is when he’s beating up on someone weaker than he is–like his opponents in the primaries. He’s still just a prep school bully who’s overcompensating for his own insecurity.
Back to Tomasky:
In some respects, he’s more weenie than wimp—socially inept; at times awkwardy ingratiating, at other times mocking those “below” him, but almost always getting the situation a little wrong, and never in a sympathetic way. The evidence resonates across too many years to deny. What kind of teenager beats up on the misfit, sissy kid, pinning him down and violently cutting his hair with a pair of school scissors—the incident from Romney’s youth that The Washington Post famously reported (and Romney famously didn’t really deny) back in May? The behavior extends, through more sedate means, into adulthood. The Salt Lake Olympics remains his greatest triumph, for which he wins deserved praise. But to many of those in the know, Romney placed a heavy asterisk next to his name by attacking the men he replaced on the Olympic Committee, smearing them in his book, even after a court threw out all the corruption charges against them.
And what kind of presidential candidate whines about a few attacks and demands an apology when the going starts to get rough? And tries to sound tough by accusing the president who killed the world’s most-wanted villain of appeasement? That’s what they call overcompensation, and it’s a dead giveaway; it’s the “tell.” This guy is nervous—terrified—about looking weak. And ironically, being terrified of looking weak makes him look weaker still.
Romney claims the Newsweek cover doesn’t bother him even a tiny little bit. It’s the first time he’s been called a wimp, he says. Really? See here and here. The meme is catching on. If Willard weren’t a wimp, he’d release his tax returns tomorrow and dare the media to find anything to be ashamed of. But he can’t, because he’s terrified.
Psychoanalyst Justin Frank, author of the books Bush on the Couch and Obama on the Couch, provided a first pass on Romney’s psychology at Salon. Frank notes the way Romney frequently responds to situations by seemingly speaking without thinking ahead.
When Brian Williams asked him what he thought about the London games, Romney first tried to answer the question directly – something most politicians usually don’t do. He said, “It’s hard to know just how well it will turn out.” He then began to talk about his own work running the 2002 SLC winter Olympics in what seemed like a canned response. What strikes me is the confidence with which he spoke and the remarkable lack of thought he exhibited. This has become a pattern for him, and not just on this trip. But it is more noticeable than before because he is largely left to his own devices, without prepared remarks that he could use in informal conversation.
In many cases, Romney ends up having to walk back his initial comments as he did in London with his criticisms of Britain’s preparations for the Olympics. Frank’s assessment of Romney so far (emphasis added):
I think the force behind this behavior is massive anxiety, pure and simple. He is anxious about revealing who he is and about interacting with people he doesn’t know. He appears to have much less experience than Obama in interacting with people from all walks of life. Basically, he is uncomfortable except within his own family and in the presence of those who share his wealthy background and Mormon faith. There are many ways to defend against overwhelming anxiety, one of which is to act certain about every answer given.
What comes out besides this sense of smiling certainty are signs of anxious contempt toward others – whether it is how the British run their Games or saying that kids who can’t afford college should borrow money from their parents. Put together, these and many similar statements – his pleasure at firing people or his belief that corporations are people (is that why he can comfortably bankrupt some?) – are all evidence of a hostility not dissimilar to stories about his bullying of others during his prep school days. At this stage, I suspect Mitt Romney is too anxious to be an effective president.