Watch Mitt Romney rewarded for getting angry

Don't let him touch you. Have you not seen The Golden Child?

If you break into Mitt Romney’s house and he catches you, you’re probably still okay until he starts laughing. Once he starts laughing, don’t turn your back to him, because it means he’s about to brain you with a bookend. The bookend depicts a child feeding a horse, but that’s not important right now. What is important is that Romney got into a spat with fellow lifelike simulacrum Rick Perry last night, and by all accounts it was great for him. He passed through the first few Romney responses to conflict—smiling, nonplussed smiling, chagrined smiling—and then he introduced an entirely new stage: indignant chuckling. Then he scolded the hell out of Rick Perry, and everyone cheered. Romney was visibly pleased, like the moment when your stepfather first tells you you’re pretty. Video after the jump and an advertisement for exploding vodka.

Romney and Perry were ostensibly arguing over illegal immigration, specifically the illegal immigrants who worked on a yard crew that Romney hired a few years ago. Really, they were arguing over whether Perry can start talking whenever he wants. Perry took pro and Romney went con, and the two advanced their positions simultaneously until Romney lost his temper. “You have a problem with allowing someone to finish speaking,” he said. “And I suggest that if you want to become president of the United States, you got to let both people speak.”

Cheering, applause. Romney’s burn was maybe not airtight—when you become President of the United States, who exactly is the other person?—but it still brought some heat. From a candidate who has consistently displayed the intensity of a cobb salad, it felt like breakthrough proof of interiority. Romney is the right man for the wrong GOP. Besides John Huntsman, who is consistently asked for identification when he arrives at debates, he is clearly the least insane Republican candidate. Unfortunately, he is pursuing the nomination of the most insane Republican Party.

Thanks to the Tea Party, the GOP is deeply committed to ideology. An ideology is like an idea that you don’t think about. You yell about it, and the contemporary Republican Party is totally into yelling. Romney, meanwhile, is a relic of the old style. His country club approach to disagreement is surely preferable to Perry’s smirking interruptions or Bachmann’s pathological fact-making, but it’s not, you know, fiery. America is falling to socialism. This could be our last presidential election. We need someone who’s going to take our country back, not convince them to give it to us.

“Us” and “them” remain undefined terms for this brave America, but they are established jargon in the Republican Party. As with Perry’s accusation that Mitt secretly loves health care reform, the suspicion is that Romney’s calm demeanor proves he is a moderate. It’s not so much that the Republican base thinks extremism in defense of liberty is no vice; it’s that extremism is defense of liberty. Romney is Gatorade to the rest of the party’s Four Loko. He is not sufficiently extreme.

So it was rad to see him get pissed. He still moves and speaks like his desire to become President is a side effect of his Asperger’s Syndome, but at least we know there’s somebody in there. Act enough like Mitt Romney isn’t talking, and he will finally remind you that he is. First he will put his hand on your shoulder, like you are his son, and then he will tell you that your behavior is not in line with your ambitions, like you are his son. And if there’s one thing Republican voters like, it’s Dad.

Irony: if Mitt Romney does win the nomination, he will face one of the more emotionally controlled Presidents in recent memory. Romney’s problem is the same one that dogged Barack Obama through the Democratic primaries in 2008, and a general between the two men will likely be a race to see who can debate with the most respectful attention. That sounds like a good thing to me, and it’s funny that it could happen at a moment when our discourse has become violent and shrill.

I like Mitt Romney. He is less evidently insane than the other Republican candidates, and although he is less likable than Black Walnut, he is also less likely to provoke frightened laughter. Romney’s weird angry laughter is a good sign. It means the weirdly angry Republican Party might start to trust him, and with that find themselves lured back into civility.


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  1. Ricky Perry had similarly unearned applause during the first or second debate. He said nothing of real interest to huge cheers. And then when he said something of interest the cheers were equally huge. And when he gave limp retorts to his opponents the crowed cheered again.

    At that point I realized I didn’t know the first thing about how the audience is selected at a Republican debate and that the applause heard is not a useful indicator of how Republican voters are reacting. You may recall that they booed the gay soldier at one debate.

    Plants; all of’em. I certainly didn’t see Romney as being just enough angry and crazy to earn a vote. I just saw him being even more restrained than I would be in the same situation. STFU Ricky Perry or I’ll learn you some manners!

  2. Great post. As I watched this last night, I kept wondering if this were a neutral crowd that Romney won, or if this were a Pro-Romney crowd looking for a moment to cheer. As I recall, Romney won Nevada handily in the last Republican primary, and, well, Nevada does have a pretty significant Mormon population. I find this interesting because I’m not sure how the reaction from the crowd affects the perception of the hoi polloi watching at home. I think it’s feasible that a pro-Romney crowd could pop at the right time and, like the laugh track on Two and a Half Men, convince the wavering masses at home that they’re hearing something great.

  3. I find it fascinating that you’ve diagnosed him as having Aspergers…nobody seems to mention this in the media but it seems to be the case. He always says he looked up to his dad as a child, but it’s almost guaranteed that he was closer to his mother (in spirit, at least). I’ve heard him say he couldn’t imagine losing his wife, which makes a lot of sense, since she is his emotional outlet (his soundboard, since he probably struggles to figure out people’s motives). He had also mentioned watching youtube videos of Obama before he became president, that tendency to try to watch people long enough to figure out how they tick. He doesn’t need to bother with Obama, though: he is very self-assured and very capable of doing exactly what he wants (which is quite narrow at this point, since Congress allows so little to make it through).

    I’m really torn on who to vote for in the next election: I still think Obama is a fantastic president (and his wife is an excellent “rock” for him to stay grounded in), but I wonder if Romney’s business sensibility (social awkwardness) might come in handy, trying to salvage our collapsing economy. We’ll probably just have to let it collapse completely, but maybe he can do a better job of softening the blow. Genuinely torn, for sure: stay-the-course vs. change in sensibility. I like Obama’s thoughtfulness (he’s constantly highly aware of the ramifications of everything), but I think it hasn’t always served him well in the past. We might need a president who ignores the social niceties and just gets shit down, regardless of the political ramifications. Romney was a good governor (the health care system is pricey but at least it covers more people than most of the rest of the nation) of a very diverse state, so I’d expect that to extrapolate to the presidency well enough.

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