When Romney leaves his script

About a month ago, we learned Mitt Romney’s campaign is scripted to an almost comical extent. Every possible detail “has been meticulously choreographed,” in part to help the Republican candidate improve his image, and in part to help shield the awkward former governor from embarrassing slip-ups.

Occasionally, Romney interacts with real people who aren’t part of the meticulous choreography. And that’s when the ostensible GOP frontrunner gets into trouble. Here’s Romney campaigning in Iowa this morning, for example, following a shouting match with hecklers concerned about taxes and entitlements.

“Corporations are people, my friend,” Romney said in response to suggestions that big businesses should pay more. He added, “Of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people.”

At that moment, a whole lot of political and media professionals, all at the same time, whispered to themselves, “Well, that’s going to show up in a campaign ad sometime soon.”

Part of the problem with this is the phrasing, since “corporations are people” doesn’t exactly scream “man of the people.” Another part is the context: polls show the American mainstream supports higher taxes on wealthy corporations (many of which use loopholes and shelters to avoid much, if not all, of their responsibilities) to help reduce the debt and finance programs like Medicare. Romney is pushing back against this notion because, as he put it, “corporations are people.”

C-SPAN has a 24-minute clip that offers significantly more context, which is also worth watching. Romney, who’s never been especially adept at retail politics, obviously seems rattled by confrontational questions.

And that leads to the larger point: Romney’s been running for president non-stop for nearly five years, but he’s still not good at the whole “personal interaction” thing. Just over the past few months, we’ve seen several examples — the jokes about being “unemployed” in Florida; the fake butt-pinch in New Hampshire, the $100 bill in Colorado — that reinforce the belief talking and relating to people just doesn’t come naturally to Romney.

If Democrats are eager to characterize Romney as a weird guy who isn’t comfortable in his own skin, the former governor actually seems eager to help reinforce the theme.

The Boston Herald, a tabloid in Romney’s old hometown, recently ran this cover that you’re likely to see again: