Cocktails With Keyser Soze

The single best indicator of Mitt Romney’s grip on the GOP presidential nomination probably isn’t delegate counts or cash-on-hand or even endorsements by poohbahs who might naturally be found in the ranks of his opponents. No, it’s the growing interest in the personalities and backgrounds of the people around Romney by political media, who are kind of like those animals who can sense changing weather. It’s as though Romney’s staffers and advisors are being tried out for the shiny new roles they will soon assume as serious contenders to become the Most Powerful People in the World.

Check out this very interesting piece by BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins about a meet-and-greet between campaign reporters and Romney campaign operatives:

As reporters strained to squeeze some journalistic value from the off-the-record chitchat, a few members of the campaign’s traveling press corps retreated to a table toward the back of the bar with adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, and campaign manager Matt Rhoades.

The group talked over appetizers for more than an hour before Fehrnstrom and Rhoades decided to call it a night, but it wasn’t until after they left that Los Angeles Times reporter Maeve Reston realized she had just been in the company of the elusive man at the helm of Romney’s operation.

“Matt and I got up to leave, walked out the door, and Maeve Reston chased us down to say she didn’t realize she was chatting with the campaign manager, and wanted to make sure she properly introduced herself,” Fehrnstrom recalled.

Coppins uses this vignette to depict Rhoades, mainly known as George W. Bush’s oppo research guy in 2004, as a fascinating sort of Keyser Soze figure, a “hipster for the blue-blazer-and loafers-set” whose winning-at-all-costs persona is tailor-made for mythologizing.

I find this sort of campaign journalism nauseating, even though Coppins is in part making fun of himself and his peers who seem to alternate between regarding people like Rhoades as two-legged cockroaches and fawning over them as Ubermenschen who are not constrained by the limitations, physical or moral, of regular folks.

The latter description seems to be in ascendency:

[Rhoades is] leaving a host of bloodied opponents in his wake as he guides the campaign to the nomination. Meanwhile, his fierce drive and avoidance of the spotlight have earned wide praise from his coworkers.

“He’s probably the most disciplined and focused person I’ve ever met,” said Fehrnstrom. “He’s very committed to whatever task you give him. In the case of the campaign, he is relentless. He lives and breathes Mitt Romney. He never takes a day off, and he gets by on barely no sleep. He’s a real-life version of the Terminator.”

For the people this sort of crap is written about, it probably provides a few laughs, a nice blurb to help boost the fees they command in their future lobbying or consulting jobs, and maybe a little intimidation of the Other Team. But more than anything else, it’s an infallible indicator that they are now just one election away from the chance to evict the Other Team from the White House, and get the keys to the shiniest car in the world.

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.