Debate donnybrook: Mannerly Mitt vs. a president who interrupts

October 02, 2012|By James Rainey

Mitt Romney and President Obama will attempt their most statesmanlike poses for Wednesday night’s debate in Denver, but there is one dichotomy that could break the congenial facade: Obama likes to interrupt. Romney doesn’t like to be interrupted.

When he took on John McCain in the 2008 debates, then-Sen. Barack Obama showed no hesitation at jumping in when he thought his opponent had misrepresented his positions. He didn’t wait for moderator Jim Lehrer to call on him or until the end of McCain’s remarks.

“That’s not the case,” and “That’s not true,” Obama interjected when McCain suggested that top military leaders judged the Democrat’s Afghanistan withdrawal proposal to be too precipitous. And when McCain suggested Obama would meet willy-nilly with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Obama cut in: “Nobody's talking about that.”

DEBATE QUIZ: Who said it?  

Romney participated in one of the monumentally cringe-inducing moments of the primary campaign season, courtesy of Texas Gov. Rick Perry — who took a tough shot at the Republican front-runner, then repeatedly interrupted his attempts to respond.

The two were among a throng of GOP candidates on stage last October in Las Vegas, when Perry challenged Romney on immigration reform. Playing off a news report in the Boston Globe, Perry accused the former Massachusetts governor of hiring illegal workers at his home. “The idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you are strong on immigration is on its face the height of hypocrisy,” Perry said.

Romney forced out a laugh that sounded as mirthful as a chain saw, “Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha.” He then denied hiring illegals immigrants and said he would give Perry the facts. No, “I’ll tell you what the facts are,” Perry interjected. Romney tried again to proceed with his rebuttal (in which he eventually explained that a contractor had failed to properly check the workers’ documents) but Perry took another shot: “It’s time for you to tell the truth, Mitt.”

Romney then reached a hand into Perry’s air space and laid it on Perry’s shoulder for several seconds. He first appealed, plaintively, for moderator Anderson Cooper to jump in. Cooper looked amused. Romney then became exasperated and, sounding like a hectored spouse, tried: “Would you please wait?” and “Are you just going to keep talking?” and “Let me finish what I have to say.”

The mannerly Romney wasn’t all sweetness, though. He suggested Perry had lit into him because “this has been a tough couple of debates and I understand that, so you’re going to get testy.” Perry’s eyes narrowed and seemed to turn dark with anger, which Romney answered with another aw-shucks protestation: “Look, let me take my time and then you can take your time, all right?”

It amounted to a remarkably asymmetrical verbal fusillade, Romney both posing as the victim and perfect gentleman, his honor in danger of being tainted, while he unleashed wicked broadsides at Perry’s management of Texas — not aggressive enough about building a border wall and offering scholarships to undocumented students.

Romney finished his answer with a couple of gems. “You have a problem with allowing someone to finish speaking,” he said, turning to face Perry at the adjacent lectern, “and I suggest that, if you want to become president of the United States, you have to let both people speak, so let me speak.”

Romney got a chance to complete his answer and it included this memorable line, which he said he had delivered to his contractor: “I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake. I can’t have illegals.”

Twitter: @latimesrainey


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