The Republican primary campaign has highlighted the barely concealed contempt in which Mitt Romney holds the electorate, especially the Republican electorate. One adviser has expressed his astonishment that GOP voters fall for clowns like Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich:
“They like preachers,” the adviser said of the tea party demographic. “If you take them to a tent meeting, they’ll get whipped into a frenzy. That’s how people like Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich get women to fall into bed with them.”
That is an insult putatively directed at Romney’s rivals, but which reflects heavily on the voters themselves. Another fresh insult comes today, by way of John Dickerson, who reports that Gingrich’s assault on Juan Williams worked because "'Williams was a stand-in for Barack Obama in people's minds,' said one Romney adviser."
Gee, whatever could Williams and Obama have in common? Can this be interpreted as meaning anything other than that South Carolina Republicans are a pack of racist buffoons?
Romney’s disdain for the electorate is one of his more deeply rooted traits. During his father’s 1968 presidential campaign, Romney wrote, “how can the American public like such muttonheads?”
I find that contempt pretty well-founded, and it is a relief that Romney does not believe the nonsense he spouts during the campaign. But the persistent awkwardness of Romney’s campaign style reflects this basic tension. It’s easy to try to persuade somebody for whom you have basic respect. It’s persuading somebody whom you consider stupid — while you must conceal any trace of your disdain — that’s excruciatingly difficult. Romney’s awkward manner on the trail is the agony of suppressed contempt.