Who Knew?

Mitt Romney, Awesome Campaigner?

What a difference a bus tour makes.

Remember Mitt Romney, the goofy, awkward campaigner who couldn’t connect with voters?

That guy is gone now.

Just look at this front-page Washington Post story: “Romney—now ‘one of the guys’—basks in new enthusiasm from GOP.”

A 69-year-old Ohio woman is quoted as saying “he showed personality—oh, big time.” And the crowds are cheering with hoots and whistles.

How about this New York Times report: “Road Trip Helps Romney Brush Up on Banter.” The Romney who “emerged” on this tour—as if candidates materialize from nowhere—“still came across as goofily old-fashioned, but he was also more polished on the stump.”

This is an important moment, one that was probably inevitable once the media collectively decided that Romney, the battle-scarred man who survived the primaries, could actually win the presidency. Tightening polls and surging fundraising persuaded the pundits that Barack Obama may well fall short. At that point it was only a matter of time before Romney the Confident Candidate, well, emerged.

The truth is that Romney wasn’t as bad as he was being portrayed in the past, nor is he as good as some are saying now.

He is not a natural campaigner and never will be. But I watched Romney back in New Hampshire, and the guy knew how to deliver a stump speech and work a crowd.

What happened is that he kept making gaffes—“I like being able to fire people,” “I’m not concerned about the very poor,” “Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs”—that got endlessly replayed in the media echo chamber. That made it sound like he was screwing up every other hour.

By the way, the reports that he found a Wawa touch-screen menu “amazing” are misleading. An MSNBC clip cut him off at amazing, but he went on to say that the private sector was doing a much more efficient job than government, having cited a doctor’s problems with federal regulation a few moments earlier. Which isn’t to say the whole tale about Wawa (which he mispronounced) didn’t feel forced and off-kilter.

Still, reporters need a new story every day, and Romney-the-much-improved candidate seems to be it.

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That is, until he steps in it again.