Romney tries to overcome his passion deficit

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney campaigns at American Douglas Metals in Orlando, Fla., Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) Charles Dharapak

Mitt Romney campaigns at American Douglas Metals in Orlando, Fla., Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012
Charles Dharapak/AP

Updated 6:53 p.m. Eastern Time

As a candidate, Mitt Romney has long touted his business savvy and projected a kind of detached, intelligent calm, like President Obama, though one seeming to originate from different planet.

He avoided colorful or outrageous comments, preferring to maintain his image as a serious, sober leader and savvy negotiator whose career as a CEO prepared him to reform Washington and resolve the problems facing the U.S. economy and America abroad.

It's left Romney with what looks to many voters like a passion deficit, particularly when compared to a candidate like Newt Gingrich. Romney doesn't easily connect emotionally with voters, who choose candidates with their hearts as much as their heads. That's a big reason why the former Massachusetts governor went from the presumed GOP nominee to also-ran in the South Carolina primary.

A big part of Gingrich's appeal to voters is his mastery of righteous indignation -- his ability to hammer his rivals, whether they be fellow Republicans, President Obama or the media. In the wake of the South Carolina primary, the Romney campaign decided to follow suit and inject some passion -- or at least more heat -- into the candidate's veins. During the GOP presidential debate on Monday, Romney came out firing, calling Gingrich an "influence peddler" and claiming that he resigned his House speakership post "in disgrace."

Gingrich fired back during his travels through Florida, citing Romney's wealth and making fun of his comment that immigrants in the U.S. illegally would "self-deport" themselves under Romney's policies.

"I think you have to live in worlds of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island accounts and automatic $20 million a year income with no work to have some fantasy this far from reality," Gingrich said in Miami.

Romney's attacks weren't limited to Gingrich.

"I was reminded of his trip just a week or so ago when he spoke at Fantasyland," Romney said of Tuesday's State of the Union address, referring to a trip Mr. Obama made to Disney World in Orlando. "He was speaking in fantasyland again last night. He seemed so extraordinarily detached from reality."

And in his appeal for the Cuban-American vote in Florida,Romney showed his more colorful side in discussing the fate of Fidel Castro.

"If I'm fortunate to become the next president of the United States, it is my expectation that Fidel Castro will finally be taken off this planet. I doubt he'll take any time in the sky, he'll find a nether region to be more to his comfort," he said.  

In most political campaigns, the candidates are at war. Voters base their impression of candidates less on the logic of their positions on key issues than on how they project an image of confidence and authority. They are influenced by how skillfully the candidates use words and images to tear down their opponents and build themselves up, tapping into the gestalt of the reality show competitions that dominate television screens.

In a column published Wednesday, Castro offered his own colorful assessment of the GOP candidates vying for votes 90 miles from his island.

"The selection of a Republican candidate for the presidency of this globalized and expansive empire is -- and I mean this seriously -- the greatest competition of idiocy and ignorance that has ever been," he said. 

The 85-year-old Castro, who has engaged in a serious war of words and deeds with America for the last 50 years, still knows how use his words to tear into his opponents.

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