More Thurston Howell than Average Joe

Rachel Maddow had a good segment the other day comparing Mitt Romney to Thurston Howell III. The former is the flip-flopping former governor running for president; the latter is a very wealthy fictional character who, for some reason, packed an inordinate number of smoking jackets for a three-hour tour.

In any case, Rachel’s point was that Romney — who inherited a fortune and that got even richer as a private-equity mogul by laying off thousands of American workers — isn’t exactly a natural when it comes to presenting himself as a regular ol’ person. It’s not just his odd jokes about being unemployed, it’s also his Howell-like tendencies — he can’t break a $100 bill, he’s expanding his ocean-front mansion, he spends a lot of time in the Hamptons and at Martha’s Vineyard, he appears on television with a yacht club in the background, he’s preoccupied with the argument that corporations are people, etc.

But that was last week. This week, Romney is just like you and me.

Mitt Romney is an ordinary American, who flies and eats cheap just like us.

Take a look at the Republican presidential candidate’s Twitter feed in recent days, and it’s clear his campaign is making an effort to show that.

Indeed, Romney’s been tweeting away, boasting about flying commercial and eating a Subway sandwich, among other things. Ben Smith posted a slideshow of related images from Romney’s Twitter feed, including Romney at a baseball game, at home washing dishes, and getting a haircut from a regular ol’ barber.

Let’s put all of this in the category called, “Trying Too Hard.”

Look, Thurston Howell III probably isn’t the look Romney is going for right now. I get that. But candidates need to realize that most voters can pick up on phoniness pretty easily, and forcing an unnatural persona is a losing proposition. Trying to appear like an average Joe tends to reinforce the ways in which someone isn’t an average Joe.

We’ve all grown tired of the “comfortable in his own skin” cliche, and for good reason, but there’s a kernel of a point in there. Most candidates don’t feel the need to say, “Hey, look at me! I’m flying Southwest Airlines, which is commercial!” because it would seem unnecessary.

Maybe Romney’s a little defensive because he got even richer by forcing so many Americans out of work. He’s probably also feeling a little burned after reports about quadrupling one of his mansions.

But if I had to guess, I’d say voters won’t much mind candidates with vast wealth, if they think the candidates are going to fight for their interests. Romney doesn’t need to be seen with a corndog; he needs to be seen with a jobs agenda.

Romney probably doesn’t want my advice, but I’d suggest he stop trying so hard to figure out the latest in a series of personas. Has he tried being himself? After all of his metamorphoses, does he even know who that is anymore?