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Frank Rich: Who is Mitt Romney? Not an empty suit. "A wall. A mask.”

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Mitt Romney, according to Frank Rich, is not an empty suit, fillable by whatever content suits the moment. He's worse — an impenetrable human being, a mask of personal secrecy. There's a big difference.

Here's Rich in a recent New York magazine piece (my emphasis and paragraphing):

If Nixon could learn how to sell himself in 1968 under the tutelage of Roger Ailes, and Bush 41 could receive coaching from the legendary acting teacher Stella Adler in 1980, there might still be hope for Romney under the instruction of, say, Kelsey Grammer. But Romney is too odd, too much a mystery man. We don’t know his history the way we did Nixon’s and Bush’s. His otherness seems not a matter of style and pedigree but existential.

We don’t know who Romney is for the simple reason that he never reveals who he is. Even when he is not lying about his history—whether purporting to have been “a hunter pretty much all my life” (in 2007) or to being a denizen of “the real streets of America” (in 2012)—he is incredibly secretive about almost everything that makes him tick. He has been in hiding throughout his stints in both the private and public sectors. While his career-long refusal to release his tax returns was damaging in itself, it resonated even more so as a proxy for all the other secrets he has kept and still keeps.

Just as Republican caucus votes were being (re-)counted in Iowa, the first serious and thorough Romney biography was published, to deservedly favorable reviews. The authors, Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, are Boston Globe investigative reporters who have tracked him for years. Their book, The Real Romney, is manifestly fair and nonpartisan[.] ... But it’s a measure of how much voters view Romney as a nonentity that they have shown so little interest in reading it. Not even a rave in the Times the week before the South Carolina primary could catapult The Real Romney into the top 500 of the Amazon list, despite the serious possibility that its protagonist could be the next president of the United States.

The book has no bombshells, and the very lack of them is revealing. For all the encyclopedic detail its authors amassed, and all the sources they mined, their subject remains impenetrable. “A wall. A shell. A mask,” they write at the outset, listing the terms used by many who “have known or worked with Romney” and view him as “a man who sometimes seems to be looking not into your eyes but past them.”

Former business and political colleagues are in agreement that he has scant interest in mingling with people in even casual social interactions (in a hallway, for instance) and displays “little desire to know who people are.” He so “rarely went out with the guys in any social venue” that one business associate dubbed him the Tin Man for “his inability to bond.”

During his one term as governor of Massachusetts, Romney was inaccessible to legislators, with ropes and elevator settings often restricting access to his suite of offices. He was notorious, one lawmaker explained, for having “no idea what our names were—none.”
The one penetrable in the impenetrable Romney that Rich identifies is his Mormonism. Not that we understand his relationship to his religion; just that we know that there is one:
That faith is key to the Romney mystery. Had the 2002 Winter Olympics not been held in Salt Lake City, and not been a major civic project of Mormon leaders there, it’s unlikely Romney would have gotten involved. ...

But Romney is even less forthcoming about his religion than he is about his tax returns. ... In Romneyland, Mormonism is the religion that dare not speak its name. Which leaves him unable to talk about the very subject he seems to care about most[.]
The whole piece is interesting; there's more to it than what I excerpted here. But for me, the major question it raises remains this — If Romney's not an empty suit, but an invisibly-filled one, what would we find if that suit came to rule us?


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