Romney impressed me.
Ten years ago, he salvaged the Salt Lake City Olympics from ethical and fiscal problems. His image out of Utah was that of a super-capable, energetic problem-solving wizard, and I had a personal experience of that.
Two weeks after my wife returned from attending the Romney Olympics, she got a phone call from a young man who said: "Ma'am, I'm calling from the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. You reported a lost watch when you were here. I wanted to report to you that we have just completed a full inventory of all the lost and found venues in the Olympic Village and surrounding areas, and I'm sorry to say we were not able to find your watch. Still, we hope you had a memorable trip to the Olympics, and we hope you find a chance to return to Salt Lake City in the future."
That's more than good management. That's some form of magical power.
Then the man won the governorship of Massachusetts. You can't become a Republican governor in Massachusetts unless you're a smart, pragmatic problem-solver. You sure can't win on ideology.
But it started falling apart for Romney when he had to make the switch from appealing to voters in Massachusetts to appealing to voters in the Republican presidential primaries.
Now he holds positions so stripped of nuance that they sound like symptoms of insecurity — especially when they're coming from a man you know is capable of drawing very fine conceptual distinctions.
Every candidate is allowed a gap between the person and the persona. After all, Ronald Reagan was an actor. But Mitt Romney is a poser. When people pretend to be someone other than who they are, they usually pose as someone better. Romney's posing as someone worse.
More than three years ago, in what may have been his first move of this 2012 campaign, Romney wrote a New York Times op-ed, titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." The column opened with this line:
"If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye."
The Big Three automakers got the federal support they sought. Three years later, jobs, profits and morale are up. The U.S. auto industry is one of the few bright spots in the economy.
Romney's answer is to say that things would have been better if there'd been no bailout.
Insisting that you're right when the evidence shows you're wrong — that's typical politics. But seeing it in Romney, who used to be driven less by ideology and more by what works, is just depressing. Would it be too much to ask that Romney have as much non-ideological decision-making skills as, say, George W. Bush?
The first tranche of federal money that Romney said would lead to the end of the auto industry came on the order of President Bush — $25 billion. In his memoirs, Bush writes: "It was frustrating to have the automakers' rescue be my last major economic decision. But with the market not yet functioning, I had to safeguard American workers and their families from a widespread collapse."
Last month, Bush spoke to the National Automobile Dealers Association and said he would do it again. "Sometimes," he told the car dealers, "circumstances get in the way of philosophy."
Where have you gone, Romney the pragmatist?
What about Romney the good manager? Well, I'm not sure how he's going to manage to win in November when he has to come back to Michigan and Ohio and insist to those autoworkers he was right to oppose a bailout that President Bush and President Barack Obama both supported and that helped them keep their jobs.
And how did he manage to get himself that speaking engagement at Ford Field? Any intern knows that there are key questions to ask about a campaign event: "What's the headline? What's the story? What's the picture?" The headline was "Romney's Ford Field Fumble," and we all saw the sad, empty stadium picture.
I'd love to know how many people on Team Romney heard the Ford Field plan and said, "Great idea!" And how many more heard the plan and didn't say, "Bad idea!" Sigh. Is he not even a good manager anymore?
I'm waiting for the phone call: "Sir, I'm calling from the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. We have checked all the lost and found venues in the Olympic Village, and we have not been able to locate your Mitt Romney."
If he ever becomes president, I hope he finds himself.
Tom Rosshirt was a national security speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and a foreign affairs spokesman for Vice President Al Gore. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Tom Rosshirt and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.