Mitt Romney sat in the chair looking like a pinata waiting to be hit.
He was on the set of "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," his first late-night TV appearance ever.
The "Tonight Show" is a good venue for politicians — Bill Clinton played the saxophone for Johnny Carson in 1988 — and Leno appears to be a moderate Republican. He was a strong backer of Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor and appeared next to him on the podium at Schwarzenegger's massive and raucous victory party.
So Romney had nothing to be worried about. Yet he sat there, rigidly folded into his seat as if each part of his body was connected by steel rods. He seemed to be about as relaxed as a death row prisoner waiting for the gas pellets to drop.
But why? Leno would be the first to admit he is not the most rigorous interviewer on TV. This was not "60 Minutes." Steve Kroft was not going to pop out of a bush and ask Romney if he stole his neighbor's car (or limo) when he was 16.
Leno's idea of an ambush interview is to go out onto the streets near his studio and ask people if they know who is buried in Grant's Tomb. (If you said Hugh Grant, deduct 5 points.)
The worst that Leno — a car nut, with a vast collection — could possibly do was ask Romney about the $12 million expansion of his La Jolla beachfront home, which will include a "car elevator," which was first reported by Politico and became the subject of endless jabs on Twitter.
In a political era where everything is treated as significant (though little is really important), the Obama campaign had already jumped on the story, pointing out that Romney had hired a lawyer and paid him $21,500 to pave the way with city officials for the necessary permits.
Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse had chortled via e-mail (if it is possible to chortle via e-mail): "Well, doesn't everyone need an elevator for their cars? Even if you have to hire a lobbyist to secure it?"
And while Romney certainly has positive qualities, he lacks man-of-the-people credentials. He often brings to mind the delightfully wicked phrase that former Texas Gov. Ann Richards once used to describe George H.W. Bush: "He was born with a silver foot in his mouth."
Romney has talked about how his wife has bicoastal Cadillacs, and he brags about being pals with NASCAR and NFL team owners.
So you could understand how Romney might be a little nervous if he was sitting on a set waiting for David Gregory or Bob Schieffer or George Stephanopoulos to finish shuffling their papers and look up at him to begin the show.
But this was Jay Leno! And how bad could a Jay Leno interview really be?
Leno begins with softballs, asking Romney whom he wants for his vice president. Romney says he hasn't thought about it yet, and Leno is disbelieving and asks him again, and Romney grows a little irritated (or a little clever, which is even worse) and says: "I can do you a favor with this. I'll choose David Letterman, help us both out."
By which means Romney means that he will help Leno out by removing his late-night rival.
But, as any watcher of late night TV would know (and Romney probably goes to bed at least two hours before late night TV begins), Leno and Letterman loathe each other, and Leno looks forward to Letterman references as much as he looks forward to pellagra.
(And the very next night, Letterman will say on the air: "Mitt Romney was a guest on the 'Tonight Show.' You had an empty suit trying to please everyone. And then Romney came out.")
But it gets worse. To show his political creds, Leno presses Romney lightly on wanting to do away with Barack Obama's health care plan, especially the provision that would force insurance companies to insure people even if they have pre-existing medical conditions.
Even though Romney has talked about this endlessly on the campaign trail, he now seems to dither a bit — perhaps it is the adrenaline crashing through his system or the flop sweat gathering beneath his hair — and he says he would continue to insure people with pre-existing conditions as long as "they had been continuously insured."
Even Leno can recognize a loophole big enough to drive a 16-wheeler through, and he asks Romney about factory workers who never have had insurance and then get sick and need it.
And Romney unloosens just enough to stick that silver foot in his mouth.
"As long as you have been continuously insured, you ought to be able to get insurance going forward," Romney says. But only if you have been "continuously insured."
"If they are 45 years old and they show up and say I want insurance because I have heart disease, it's like, hey, guys — we can't play the game like that!" Romney says triumphantly.
So maybe he should have gone on "Meet the Press" or "Face the Nation" or "This Week," instead.
Because Romney has just delivered a really grand message to the electorate:
Hey, you greedy and unlucky people with heart disease! Who the hell do you think you are — Dick Cheney?
To find out more about Roger Simon, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.