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Late Night: Mitt Romney’s Charm Offensive

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Congratulations! You’ve just about survived the summer — which, politically speaking in this presidential election year, means the dreary interlude between the early-spring nominating contests and the fall cage match campaign.

And as your first reward for making it through, next week’s Republican National Convention offers a rare moment of almost-suspense:  What will happen when the proverbial irresistible force of the GOP’s money and obsession with image-making runs into the immovable object of Mitt Romney’s insincere, unlikable personality?

The campaign aides are determined to overcome perceptions that Mr. Romney is stiff, aloof and distant. So they have built one of the most intricate set pieces ever designed for a convention — a $2.5 million Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired theatrical stage. From its dark-wood finish to the brightly glowing high-resolution screens in the rafters that look like skylights, every aspect of the stage has been designed to convey warmth, approachability and openness. […]

… The most ambitious element of stagecraft … will be the podium — which features 13 different video screens — the largest about 29 feet by 12 feet, the smallest about 8 feet by 8 feet and movable. All the screens will be framed in dark wood.

Even the frames are designed to give it a sense that you’re not looking at a stage, you’re looking into someone’s living room,” said Russ Schriefer, one of Mr. Romney’s senior advisers who is running the convention planning for the campaign.

Wow… now if only they had something besides uptight, white male Republicans to put in those frames!  And since by now you’ve heard about Romney’s race-baiting “joke” on the campaign trail today — which Mitt thought was a big hit (“the crowd loved it and got a good laugh”) — you can bet that the GOP’s imagemeisters will do their best to make sure all this “approachability and openness” includes very little spontaneity, especially from their presidential candidate.

The timing of the conventions work against Romney as well.  The 2008 Republican gathering actually did an effective job of presenting John McCain and Sarah Palin as “mavericks,” rather than acolytes of the now-airbrushed-out George W. Bush — enough so that it boosted McCain to his only poll lead of the entire campaign.  But this year Mitt & Co. barely have a couple of days of owning the spotlight before the Democratic convention takes over the national conversation.

Not only that, but the “maverick” McCain brand soon evaporated even without the interruption of an opposing convention.  Romney’s campaign team has been even more flummoxed all year long about how to present a positive image of their guy, so it’s not exactly a sure bet that they’ll figure out a lasting (and winning) solution now… no matter how many commercial marketing gurus they drag in.

After all, the most crucial part of modern presidential campaigns are the televised, live debates in October.  And all the mythmakers’ magic will be stripped away then, with only Mitt Romney by his awkward, inauthentic, hamfisted self facing President Obama.

Maybe if they have him show up for the debates holding a frame of dark wood around his face…

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Swopa has been sharing prescient, if somewhat anal-retentive, analysis and garden-variety mockery with Internet readers since 1995 or so, when he began debunking the fantasies of Clinton-scandal aficionados on Usenet. He is currently esconced as the primary poster at Needlenose (