As conservative America’s premiere “Romney 2016” trollblogger, I feel duty-bound to pass along to you some inspired Romney trolling by others. How far might the GOP’s most notorious panderer be willing to go, Mickey Kaus asked himself, to prove he was serious about his new “champion of the little guy” campaign pitch? Merely declaring that he’s reinvented himself won’t wash away those dismal poll numbers. He needs to do something splashy to convince voters.
Actually, I think this started off as a troll and ended up with Kaus half-convincing himself that it might work:
The median income in Massachusetts is about $67,000. Would it be impossible for the Romneys to actually live on that? Lots of Americans do. Romney doesn’t have any more kids to put through college. He owns his own home(s). He could pick one (a smaller, low-maintenance one) and stay away from the others…
Commentators would say it was a stunt, and they’d be right. So what? Voters often like stunts — remember Lawton Chiles walking across Florida? They especially like stunts when there is a genuine, meaningful subtext — and in this case, there are two: a) Romney doing penance for his 2012 screwups, and b) Romney demonstrating that he knows (or has learned) how Americans live and is serious about his new economic platform. It’s the sort of thing consultant Mike Murphy might dream up if Murphy weren’t already working for Jeb.
Of course, Romney wouldn’t really be living like a median American. The aides who brought coffee and position papers to his seemingly humble abode would probably not be living on $67,000 a year. There would be a few private plane rides, motorcades, banquets, etc. Romney’s bank accounts would still be there. He could quit anytime. But again, so what? Voters would know he had special advantages. But they’d also know the stunt would still pinch. And they’d appreciate the effort. Reporters could be relied on to keep Romney at least mostly honest, catching him if he goes for any clandestine midnight rides up and down car elevators.
If you want to be semi-serious about it, forget Romney for a second. Tell me, could any Republican pull this off and not have the media destroy them for it? I think someone like Mike Lee might be able to do it, partly because he’s made economic reforms to help the middle class one of his core issues and partly because he’s not running for president. He stands to gain nothing from it (well, apart from reelection to the Senate) except firsthand knowledge of how the average American has to balance the books every week. Marco Rubio’s in a similar position in terms of policy — he and Lee are co-sponsoring pro-family tax reform — but he does, obviously, have national ambitions. The more self-serving the stunt seems as a pre-presidential pander, the less effective it’ll be.
Which means it would be singularly ineffective for Romney, right? The first, devastating question if he tried something like this is why, as someone who’s been fabulously rich for decades and who’s run for president twice before, it only occurred to him now to try it — coincidentally, on the eve of a third longshot presidential run with the next election shaping up to feature income inequality and middle-class struggles as major themes. Romney’s always suffered from the air of desperation he exudes as a politician: He’s so eager to ingratiate himself with voters, and so seemingly bewildered about how to do it, that you almost can’t fault him for trying on different brands with each presidential run (the social conservative in 2008, the economy-mending technocrat in 2012, the anti-poverty/pro-middle-class leveler in 2016). Rebranding seems like his best way to make a connection, as flawed as it may be. All of that being so, declaring that he’d live like the middle class for a year to understand them better would feel like a desperate act even by his own standards, a tacit concession that he couldn’t connect with them until he’d bought groceries on their budget. His critics would say it’s the economic equivalent of “Black Like Me”: It’s nice to experience how the other half lives, but at the end of the day you get to wipe off the make-up and go back home.
Long story short, I’m all for it. The trollblogging possibilities are endless.