There's an old joke about two hikers in the woods encountering an angry bear. When one turns to run, the other warns that he's not fast enough to outrun their ferocious adversary. "I only have to outrun you," the quicker-thinking hiker responds.
And so it is with the candidacy of Mitt Romney, whose acceptance speech Thursday at the Republican National Convention may not have been the touchdown the pundits claimed he needed but was surely what his handlers wanted, playing up both the candidate's strength (management experience) and addressing his perceived weaknesses (most particularly his lack of appeal to women and Latinos). Never mind that his pitch to the jobless and underemployed — "you took two jobs at nine bucks an hour" — came off as a bit hollow from the guy worth a cool $250 million, with a chunk of it off sunning in the Cayman Islands, or that he still projects all the emotional range of his starched white shirts. It was more important that he took the snap from center and didn't fumble the ball.
Like that guy in the woods, Mr. Romney isn't running against a particularly fearsome opponent; he's running against a struggling incumbent at a time of high unemployment and continued economic insecurity. He's counting on voters to pounce on President Barack Obama. Like the Baltimore Ravens of 2001, he just has to play quarterback mistake-free to beat the Giants and win the title.
That's made Mr. Romney truly the corporate candidate of 2012. Not only has he made board room experience his chief asset, but his public moments, including Thursday's acceptance speech, have the kind of obvious calculation that one might see in a soft-drink ad. There was a shot to Castro for the sake of swing-state Florida's Cuban voters; a reference to Mormonism only to explain how his friends never cared about his often-misunderstood religion; a long list of women leaders who support him to counter the claim that he and his party have declared war on women. Reducing access to abortion may have been a hot topic in the primaries, but it didn't find its way into the acceptance speech. Check, check and check.
Mr. Romney even soft-peddled his criticisms of President Obama — at least compared to the reality-challenged speakers (notably his running mate, Paul Ryan) who paraded across the stage earlier in the week. "I wish President Obama had succeeded, because I want America to succeed," he told the Tampa crowd, later even acknowledging that Mr. Obama gave the order that "took out" Osama bin Laden.
If the convention revealed a blueprint for the Republican's campaign over the next nine weeks, it was made obvious that the Republicans are not going to let facts get in their way. In their shared version of reality, Mr. Obama's "You didn't build that" comment was an attack on capitalism and not the reference to government-funded public infrastructure like roads and bridges that it actually was. In this parallel universe, the Obama administration is "gutting" the work requirement of welfare — which it hasn't — and Republicans in Congress haven't sought to cut the Medicare budget, which they have.
As Neil Newhouse, Mr. Romney's pollster, told reporters in what was easily the most revealing quote of the week, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers." Even by the standards of national political campaigns, that's a pretty remarkable level of cynicism. This isn't some outside group "Swift-boating" an opponent, it's thousands of party regulars steadfastly clinging to a reality refuted by any objective reading of the facts. Throw in some scotch, cigarettes and an extramarital affair and there's a "Mad Men" episode in there somewhere. Although we're not sure even Hollywood could duplicate that peculiar Clint Eastwood speech.
Democrat or Republican, one doesn't expect much more than vague platitudes at a national convention and especially in an acceptance speech. But Mr. Romney himself likely emerged from Tampa still a bit fuzzy in the minds of voters. So who, exactly, is this guy who was once a moderate governor of Massachusetts but has now positioned himself to the right of every post-war Republican president? He's clearly counting on voters not to care beyond the fact his name isn't Barack Obama.