A Weird Unforced Error by W. Mitt Romney

UPDATE: On a few minutes' reflection, I'm probably wrong about this. For the record, I'll leave the item here, with adjusted title, rather than just nuke it. I guess I was primed to give it weight by other instances of changes in Romney's views. Anyhow, this was my immediate reaction but it may have been excessive. On to other topics!

I watched as much of tonight's GOP debate as I could, and may comment on the substance some other time. Maybe. (In brief: stronger than normal performance by Jon Huntsman. And brave "immigrants are actually human beings" moment by Newt Gingrich. And, questions about prudent foreign policy by Paul Wolfowitz and David Addington? -- as part of "audience" questions that were all from right-wing think-tankers?)

But here is a little nagging thing I absolutely don't understand. Wolf Blitzer wrapped up the reality-show style intro with the following riff. All this is taken from CNN's admirable real-time transcript (and Atlantic Wire liveblog here).

I'm Wolf Blitzer and yes, that's my real name. I'll be your moderator this evening and I'm happy to welcome each one of you to our debate.

Rick Santorum, let's begin with you.... [Intros from Santorum, Paul, and Perry. Then:]

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Mitt Romney and yes, Wolf, that's also my first name. And...


My reaction wasn't (LAUGHTER). It was (WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU SAY THAT??)

Mitt is NOT his first name. His name, all his life, has been Willard Mitt Romney. 

So you can understand him saying, "yes, that's my real name." Or "that's what they call me." Or "my name is Mitt, but I always wanted to be called Wolf." Or not make the name joke at all. But why would you go out of your way to use the joke in the only fashion that makes it false: specifying "that's also my first name"?

Obviously it doesn't matter. On substance, his hard-lining the immigrant threat is my biggest objection to what I saw in this debate. But there is something odd about this, different from Herman Cain's ordinary tongue-tie slip in calling Wolf Blitzer "Blitz." It feels a little different from the normal gaffes we all commit and are familiar with -- and quickly recognize and correct, as Cain did with "Blitz". Maybe it's nothing, maybe it's the kind of thing that sticks, "for it before I was against it" style.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

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