Mitt Romney and the Popeye Defense

As you may have heard, Mitt Romney made a surprise appearance at the (subsequently suspended) Daytona 500 yesterday, and made another one of his patented gaffes that draw attention to his wealth and elite status, as Sarah Boxer of CBS reports:

Mitt Romney went to the Daytona 500 NASCAR race Sunday for what should have been a chance to show he’s one of the guys. Instead, in casual conversation with an Associated Press reporter at the Florida track, he reminded people once again that he is not exactly a regular Joe.

Asked by the AP reporter if he follows NASCAR, Romney responded, “Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans. But I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners.”

Earlier in the day on Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace asked Romney how he’d respond to people who say he doesn’t “connect” with regular people, and played him a clip of his boast last week in Michigan that he owned four American cars, two of them Cadillacs. Here’s how Mitt responded:

You know, I can’t be perfect. I just am who I am….

If people think there’s something wrong with being successful in America, then they’d better vote for the other guy. Because I’ve been extraordinarily successful. And I want to use that success and that know-how to help the American people.

Frankly, the Popeye defense (“I am what I am and that all what I am,” the sailor man often said) isn’t a real good one for Mitt Romney, particularly when it is combined with claims that anyone wondering if a guy like him understands what it’s like to experience real economic insecurity.must either be an envious would-be looter or one of those class-warfare socialists. The loud-and-proud I’m-better-than-you posture is also a bit problematic for someone trying to become the presidential nominee of a party that relies heavily on the argument that Barack Obama is an out-of-touch elitist.

But given a wide-open chance by Chris Wallace to “correct a misconception” about himself yesterday, Romney did not address any of this, but instead talked about the misconception that someone representing Massachusetts couldn’t be a teeth-grinding, hippie-hating conservative, so to speak. That’s his message in the primaries, and he’s sticking to it.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.