James Lipton’s Advice for Mitt Romney

“Inside the Actors Studio” host James Lipton tells Mitt Romney to stop trying so hard to act like a regular guy.

New York Magazine (“How to Act Human: Advice for Mitt Romney From Inside the Actors Studio“)

A few months ago, Brian McFadden’s weekly comic strip in the Sunday Timesoffered ways for Mitt Romney to improve his image. One panel showed him with me on the set of Inside the Actors Studio, under the heading “Take Acting Lessons to Appear More Relatable.”

Initially amused by this unsolicited enlistment, I’ve found myself returning spontaneously and with increasing frequency to the task, sometimes starting awake in the middle of the night with acting advice for the candidate. Convinced that the only way to exorcise this possession is to confront it, I offer the following counsel.

A key excerpt for those who can’t or won’t watch the video:

As worthy as the real Romney may be, he is not, has never been, and never will be the common man, and when he assumes the role in a crowd, his evident discomfort tells us that this guy doesn’t fly coach, much less go Greyhound, and, without the demands of “running for office,” wouldn’t be spending much time with these people who do.

Of course he’s within his rights. As he’s taken to pointing out, there’s nothing wrong with being rich. But one wouldn’t cast Henry Fonda in Bringing Up Babyor Cary Grant in The Grapes of Wrath. Miscasting matters – in drama and politics – and absent a miraculous Brando-level acting performance, Mr. Romney’s going to continue to fall victim to self-consciousness, the actor’s worst enemy.

Ronald Reagan wasn’t an authentic common man either, but he was an authentic SAG-card-carrying actor. For one unforgettable afternoon, I directed him and Bob Hope in the Lincoln bedroom, and he acquitted himself with patently genuine warmth and skill – to the point of exchanging jokes so blue, during a break to relight for his exit, that none of them can be recorded here. He and Bob roared with laughter, and the laughs were real, unaffected, and authentic enough to merit the complimentary label “Reaganesque.”

The lesson of Reagan is that, whatever his politics and legacy, there was always only one of him. Even with all his theatrical experience, he never essayed a dual role. So, for what it’s worth, my advice to Mr. Romney is this: Since the evidence indicates that you lack the skills to simulate what you’re not, you should stick to typecasting and go with what you’ve got and who you are. It’s not just your best option, sir, it’s your only one.

So many recent candidates, ranging from Bob Dole to Al Gore* to John Kerry to John McCain, have lost elections while trying to convince people that they were someone they weren’t. To be sure, they might well have lost them anyway. But at least going down being true to your own character has a certain satisfaction.

*Al Gore always deserves an asterisk in these contexts since, after all, he got more votes than the guy who won the election. Still, given the incredible closeness of the contest, there’s a decent chance that eliminating even one of the mini controversies–from “earth tones” to “Love Story”–that gave him the reputation as a man constantly trying to reinvent himself would have made the difference.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Good advice.

  2. sam says:

    The lesson of Reagan is that, whatever his politics and legacy, there was always only one of him.

    But isn’t that the problem for Mitt? There’s been so many of him, I suspect he’s lost any sense of the real Romney. He more and more reminds me of Leonard Shelby in Memento running down the street thinking to himself, “Am I chasing someone or is someone chasing me?”

  3. DC Loser says:

    He should just try to be like Thurston Howell III.

  4. gawaine says:

    On your asterisk on Al Gore – I voted for a third party in that election, because I knew my vote didn’t matter in that election. Otherwise, I would have voted for Bush. To me, the popular vote is an irrelevant statistic. If people had thought it mattered, more people might have voted on either side.

    Democrats in blue states, and Republicans in red states, both sit out races when they don’t feel they matter. Or they try harder if they feel that their state is on the edge. Campaigns spend money on states they can win – they don’t usually try to encourage a few more Republicans to vote in New York. If the rules were different, then the results would have been different. Since the rules weren’t different, who won the popular vote just doesn’t matter much.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @gawaine: Certainly. I’m not arguing that Gore was the legitimate winner of the election, merely that, since he got more votes, we can’t use his loss to draw straight line conclusions in the same way we can losers who also got fewer votes.

  6. gVOR08 says:

    In this context, shouldn’t one also mention that a press consortium recounted Florida ballots after the fact. They applied consistent rules about hanging chads and whatever. They tried a handful of different consistent rules, hanging chads count, hanging chads don’t count, for instance. In each scenario Gore won by a slim margin. As someone said, whatever the official count, a majority of FL voters thought they voted for Gore.

    I’m old enough to still be pissed at Ford for pardoning Nixon for all crimes ” known and unknown”. I’m not likely to forgive the SCOTUS for imposing W on us. And **** Ralph Nader to the **** he so richly deserves.

  7. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08: Actually, that’s not quite right. The results were dependent on the method used:

    Review of all ballots statewide (never undertaken)
    • Standard as set by each county canvassing board during their survey Gore by 171
    • Fully punched chad and limited marks on optical ballots Gore by 115
    • Any dimples or optical mark Gore by 107
    • One corner of chad detached or optical mark Gore by 60
    Review of limited sets of ballots (initiated but not completed)
    • Gore request for recounts of all ballots in Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Volusia counties Bush by 225
    • Florida Supreme Court of all undervotes statewide Bush by 430
    • Florida Supreme Court as being implemented by the counties, some of whom refused and some counted overvotes as well as undervotes Bush by 493
    Unofficial recount totals
    • Incomplete result when the Supreme Court stayed the recount (December 9, 2000) Bush by 154
    Certified Result (official final count)
    • Recounts included from Volusia and Broward only Bush by 537

  8. sam says:

    ” I voted for a third party in that election, because I knew my vote didn’t matter in that election…Democrats in blue states, and Republicans in red states, both sit out races when they don’t feel they matter.”

    Very strong argument for dumping the EC and going to a popular vote.

  9. Tillman says:

    They should decide President by popular vote and Vice President by Electoral College.

    Most of the time the two will line up anyway.

  10. michael reynolds says:

    I’m for deciding by hunger game.

  11. al-Ameda says:

    It’s a little late for this advice, and it would not change the wide spread perception that Romney is inauthentic and phony in his campaign pronouncements.

    Whether he acts like the partner at Bain Capital who made his fortune by acquiring companies and laying off workers, or the governor of Massachusetts who supported a health insurance insurance and now renounces his support of that – it doesn’t matter any more. Very few people will be voting FOR Romney, rather they will be voting AGAINST Obama.

    Romney is who he is – cold, corporate and craven.

  12. LC says:

    I’m not a doctor of any kind, but lately I’ve been wondering if, perhaps, Romney isn’t what is described as a person at the high end of Asperger’s Syndrome. It would certainly explain his inability to read people and audiences, his constant foot-in-mouth disease, his discomfort outside a very narrow circle of people, his perceived lack of empathy, etc.

    And, yes, I suppose politics is an unusual career for somebody who can’t read people but it isn’t unheard of.

  13. gVOR08 says:

    @James Joyner: James thanks for the clarification. I was relying on twelve year old memories of highly charged partisan sources. However, in the nine scenarios you list, one is the official FL recount, one is status of that recount as of the court stay, and three represent playing out various limited recounts then in progress. Only four are the recount of all the ballots under consistent rules. Gore won four out of four. Given the butterfly ballot thing, I’ll stand by the statement that a majority of Floridians thought they voted for Gore. I won’t get into the vote suppression or the counting of absentee ballots mailed after Election Day.

    You have reminded me that at the time I was really upset that all of the MSM stories were versions of ‘SILLY GORE, his challenge in four counties would have FAILED!! BUSH would have WON the state recount!!! The FL Supreme Court (SCOFL?) recount would have CONFIRMED BUSH!!! Oh, by the bye, no one cares and it makes no difference but get this, the after the fact, careful recount favored Gore. Isn’t that just precious? What a wimp he was.’

    My contempt for the Rehnquist court and this decision remains unabated.