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The cliché: "If Romney has been smooth and unflappable, he's also sailed above the competition," wrote The National Review's Rich Lowry last week. "Unflappable" -- it would seem a whimsical word choice, especially compared to synonyms like "ever-calm" or "unshakeable." But we see it appended to Romney's name so often that it's become common place. So often, in fact, that the similarly unflappable Peggy Noonan commented on it in her Wall Street Journal column today. "A big Romney virtue is the calm at his core. The word unflappable has been used, correctly," she says. It's used correctly because, as George Neumayr at The American Spectator put it yesterday, "Romney's usually unflappable demeanor is one of his more impressive qualities"
Where's it from and why's it catching on?
"Having or showing calmness in a crisis," and it has been occasionally used to describe Romney since his days as Massachusetts governor
. Noonan's column paints a funny portrait to demonstrate just why he gives off that impression:
He's a little like the father in one of those 1950s or '60s sitcoms that terrorized and comforted a generation of children from non-functioning families ... You'd quake at telling him about the fender-bender, but after the lecture on safety and personal responsibility, he'd buck you up and throw you the keys.
Indeed, many pundits deem him unflappable in the same breath that they note that other oft-seen Romney cliche, that his hair is never out of place
Okay, so he's been an unflappable Leave it to Beaver
type for decades, now. But finishing some of the above cited quotes from this week shows why "unflappable" is such a popular word for Romney at this moment in particular. The American Spectator'
s full quote was "Romney's usually unflappable demeanor is one of his more impressive qualities, but in Tuesday's debate he betrayed the prickliness of a perfectionist." Aha, you'll recall this week's awkward debate moment
where Rick Perry accused Mitt Romney of hiring illegals to mow his lawn, and then spoke over Romney's response until Mitt had Gawker's Jim Newall
worried "that his head is going to explode in the very near future." Indeed, as often as we've seen the phrase "the unflappable Romney" in the past, this week we see "the typically/usually/previously unflappable Romney" precisely because Rick Perry finally got him to... well... flap? Seemingly everywhere, pundits wrote things like
, "The attack flustered the normally unflappable Romney."
And actually, mentions of Romney the unflappable seem to spike after all occasions when he conversely proves himself to be quite able of making gaffes. After the "corporations are people"-gate
, for example, A.P. reporter Philip Elliott wrote
, "Typically unflappable, Romney grew agitated as he kept calling on members of the group." So, if recent history is any indication, it's just a matter of time before we forget the most recent upset, and return to staring at Romney's hair, willing it to move.
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is an associate digital editor at Boston Magazine
and a former staff writer for The Atlantic Wire.