the national interest

What Was Mitt Romney Thinking?

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to members of the Detroit Economic Club during a luncheon at Ford Field on February 24, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. Michigan and Arizona residents will go to the polls on February 28 to vote for their choice for the Republican presidential nominee.
For those worried that I am forced to rely on public transportation in case one or two of my cars broke down, fear not. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Mitt Romney’s latest gaffe, boasting of his family’s four cars – his wife drives two Cadillacs! – again raises the question of what thought process could possibly have been going on. Romney is a very intelligent man. He is surely aware that his habit of continually expressing his enormous wealth is unhelpful. He also seems to want very badly to be elected. So, what gives?

He seems to have simply miscalculated the audience to which he needed to address his pander. Romney had famously attacked the Obama administration’s bailout and restructuring of General Motors and published what will by November rank among the most famous op-eds in history. (“Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”) He is clearly trying to make amends by citing his personal collection of domestic automobiles:

I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck. Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs. I used to have a dodge truck, so I used to have all three covered.

It does make sense, in an extremely narrow way. If somebody were to accuse you of hating the Girl Scouts, you might point out that we bought a half dozen boxes of Tagalongs. That’s Romney’s thought process. I don’t hate Detroit, I love Detroit! I have a whole fleet of cars! My wife rides in a Cadillac, with a driver following behind in a second Cadillac in case she feels like changing colors in the middle of the trip! What? What did I say?

He simply couldn’t keep in mind the downside of this line, the possibility that his attempts to alleviate one problem would aggravate a much larger problem. The rap on Romney is that he’s “a uniquely talented panderer,” but the real problem seems to be that he’s a uniquely untalented panderer.

What Was Mitt Romney Thinking?