TAMPA, Fla. So, about Mitt Romney.
The Republicans have been holding a convention to nominate him for president! I am telling you this on the off chance that you haven't been paying attention. Perhaps you feel as if you've already met Mitt Romney and don't require another introduction. Perhaps you feel as if you've met him a lot. But this is entirely different because the party's mission this week is to construct an entirely new, improved, warmer, more lovable version.
They built this Romney!
"We built it" is one of the themes here, at the government-underwritten convention in a government-subsidized convention center in a city that rose on the sturdy foundation of government-subsidized flood insurance. But no taxpayer dollars were expended in the attempt to put together a New Mitt.
None. Really, it was just private corporations and rich people.
Even before the speeches began, before Tim Pawlenty compared the president to a tattoo or the governor of Ohio, John Kasich, accused Joe Biden of being a bad golfer, the magnitude of the Romney renovation challenge was clear. This wasn't going to be one of those quickie home makeovers you see on TV, where a couple goes away for the weekend and comes back to discover that they have a large, new picture window and a totally open kitchen floor plan.
The folks who spoke during the first two days of the convention were supposed to do foundation work, preparing the public to regard the presidential candidate who emerged on Thursday night as a kindly dad or a favored sibling who's always such great company when you're feeling down.
They failed completely. It was if, instead of fixing up the house, the renovators decided to do some engine work on a recreational vehicle parked three blocks down the road.
Some of the speakers tried to divert the crowd with fancy rhetoric. Who will ever forget the way Paul Ryan said America was getting the runaround and needs a turnaround?
Some tried being counterintuitive. Mike Huckabee, in an interview before his speech, compared Mitt to a nasty doctor. "If you've just been diagnosed with a brain tumor, you honestly don't care if your neurosurgeon is a jerk," he told Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast.
The challenge of giving their presidential candidate a heartwarming back story was apparently too much for many of the speakers, who decided to describe their own humble roots instead. Gov. Chris Christie talked about his mother. Ryan brought up his father, mother and grandmother. Rick Santorum told the story about his coal miner grandfather's hands again. Huckabee dropped the names of his grandchildren.
We may never figure out the inner life of the Republican presidential candidate. But we are going into the fall campaign knowing a whole lot more about the relatives of major Republican officeholders.
Ann Romney, poor woman, was left stuck with the entire burden of the convention's yearning for a candidate remake.
It turns out that her grandfather was a coal miner, too! It is possible that the only person in the entire city of Tampa this week who does not have a coal miner in the family tree is Mitt.
"Tonight I want to talk to you about love," she said. The critical point was that Ann loves Mitt and Mitt loves America. What could be better? Then, half an hour later, Christie decreed that respect trumps love. If these people can't even decide where love ranks on their to-do list, you can appreciate why they found it impossible to get together to build a new presidential candidate.
Although she was assigned to paint a picture of the Mitt Romney we have never seen and suspect does not exist, his wife's remarks were remarkably short on specifics. She did have a story about their humble early married life, which involved a brief period in college when they were forced to consume "a lot of pasta and tuna fish."
Ann assured the crowd that her husband had spent "countless hours helping others," and although that was pretty vague, we do have other accounts of his good deeds, mainly for fellow parishioners at church. She also seemed intent on telling us that he's a fun guy, full of Mittwit, but she failed to provide any examples of fun that were actually funny. The take-away image of Mitt Romney, Neighbor, was less George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life" than Ned Flanders in "The Simpsons."
The best humanizing story about a robotic presidential candidate I can remember was the one John Kerry's daughters told about how Kerry had saved their hamster Licorice from a "watery doom" by diving off a dock, retrieving the animal and administering CPR. And, actually, that didn't work out so well.
They'll make do with what they've got. One thing's for sure: Nobody in Tampa is all that interested in talking about Mitt Romney interacting with pets.