Construction Literary Magazine

Fall 2020

Robo-Romney Turns into a Real Boy

Robo-Romney Turns into a Real Boy

Photograph via AP

“Barring revelations by the Obama campaign that Mitt Romney has an identical twin, whoever that guy representing the GOP ticket was in Denver has just given the United States a real presidential election. … We may all wonder why he waited until now to liberate the real Mitt, but five weeks from election day, that question is beside the point and behind us.” -Daniel Henninger, The Wall Street Journal

Editor’s note: This post is part XII of the Etch A President Saga, a satirical series on the 2012 election campaign.

M ormon Church President Thomas Monson clicks off the television. With the first and only vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan done, it’s now time for the talking heads to convene in the spin room and declare a winner. Monson, from his lair in Salt Lake City, dials the Romney 2012 campaign headquarters in Boston.

“Yeeellow,” says chief campaign strategist Eric Fehrnstrom, picking up the phone in Boston.

“This is Monson. I just watched the VP debate,” says the church leader.

“Me, too,” says Fehrnstrom. “I’m over here with Mitt and Joshua. Let me put you on speaker.”

“Not a terrible showing from Mitt’s non-robotic running mate,” says Joshua Bekenstein, Mitt’s co-founder of the private equity fund Bain Capital.

The men—coconspirators in installing a tax-slashing Mormon in the West Wing—exchange pleasantries and soon find themselves agreeing that Biden was stronger in the debate, but lost points for interrupting repeatedly, while Ryan was the more polite and polished debater, yet lost points for appearing young and scripted. All agreed it was a near-tie, which meant the debate momentum remained with Romney following his slam dunk in the first presidential debate.

“I’ve got to say, the new Mitt Romney has outdone my greatest expectations!” Monson says. “The cyborg looked more human in the first debate than its real human opponent, Barack Hussein Obama! Now we’re actually leading in national polls by 49 percent to 45 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.”

“Voters have practically flipped their perceptions of the candidates,” says Bekenstein. “September’s survey had Obama ahead 51 percent to 43 percent.”

“Who’s flip-flopping now, hey fellas?!” says Fehrnstrom.

They chuckle.

“And it’s all thanks to the Romney3001,” says Bekenstein. “Its computer programming, unlike the old Romney3000, includes empathy, tenderness, self-awareness, faith, passion, the ability to bluff, lie, pander, and a host of other human attributes unfamiliar to narrow-minded church leaders like you, Thomas, and heartless private equity managers like me.”

[pullquote_right]Its computer programming, unlike the old Romney3000, includes empathy, tenderness, self-awareness, faith, and passion. [/pullquote_right]

Adds Fehrnstrom: “The engineers at Apple Corp finished the new Robo-Mitt in the nick of time. Only a week before the Oct. 3 presidential debate, Romney was still making gaffes about how 47 percent of Americans consider themselves victims entitled to government handouts.”

“Which is true,” says Bekenstein.

“Sure,” rebuts the campaign strategist, “it just overlooks how that 47 percent is primarily made up of veterans, active military, seniors, and low-income workers, most of whom are paying an array of sales, property, payroll, local and state taxes.”

“The leaches!” shouts the old Romney3000 from his cage in the campaign headquarters’ secret lair deep below the Boston Commons. “Those incompetent, life-sucking, fluoride-loving commies!”

“Have a heart for those less fortunate,” says the new Romney3001, offering a sensitive smile from his chair beside Fehrnstrom. “Many of those 47 percent are registered Republicans and all-important independents. That’s why I had to recant what you said about them, among other gaffes over the past nine months.”

A day after the first presidential debate, Romney had appeared on Fox News to say: “Clearly in a campaign, with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you’re going to say something that doesn’t come out right. In this case, I said something that’s just completely wrong.”

And then days later, the Romney3001 had told the editorial board of The Des Moines Register in Iowa: “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.” This was in sharp contrast to the Romney3000’s stated desire for the Supreme Court to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. The Romney3001 then followed up by telling reporters: “I’m a pro-life candidate. I’ll be a pro-life president.”

The choice to flip-flop on both remarks was made alone by Romney3001, despite the “never say sorry” stance of advisors who allowed the old Romney3000 to say he loved firing people, brag about all of his Cadillacs, and look both wooden and elitist during debates and campaign events. The campaign initially attempted to resolve the problem with an Apple-designed program called as the “Etch A Sketch,” which allowed Monson, Bekenstein, and Ferhnstrom to reset the robot’s mindset by “shaking” him either physically or via remote control. But in the end, the robot needed a total makeover, a true shake-up that would completely wipe clear the old Etch-A-Sketch.

Romney3000 was outdated. His “severe conservative” attributes were anathema to winning independent voters in crucial swing states such as Virginia, Florida, Colorado, and Ohio. And the polling data bore out that reality. In the week after their debate, Romney surged ahead in Virginia, 48 percent to 47 percent, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College survey, a reversal of Obama’s 49 percent to 44 percent lead in September. Obama’s lead withered in Florida to one point after being ahead by five points in September, and it dwindled in Ohio to six points from eight.

“Look,” continued the Romney3001, “we can no longer simply attack Obama’s record on the economy. Unemployment is now below 8 percent, hitting 7.8 percent in an Oct. 5 poll. We need a new line of attack, as Obama’s pro-market, pro-growth policies are clearly working. We need to seize on the turbulence in the Middle East as emblematic of Obama’s failed foreign policy. We need to shake free the image in voters’ minds of me as a hard-hearted billionaire who wants to end Medicare and export American jobs. We need to sketch for them a new image of compassionate conservatism.”

“Even if it means backtracking on many of this campaign’s earlier talking points?” asks Monson.

“I think the robot’s right,” says Bekenstein.

[pullquote_left]If I am to win the left, then I need to attack from the left. I need to get personal.[/pullquote_left]

“Point is,” continues the robot, lecturing his creators, “this candidate can no longer run as the ‘severe conservative’ that my predecessor championed. As I said during the debate, I must reiterate that ‘we ought to provide tax relief to people in the middle class. But I’m not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people.’ This is what wins independents. I can no longer attack Obamacare as a tyrannical government power grab to repeal on Day One. I need extol the few positives of Obamacare, such as its coverage of people with preexisting conditions. If I am to win the left, then I need to attack from the left. I need to get personal.”

“But your tax plan actually would cost $5 trillion and the jobs of many teachers!” shouts the Romney3000. “You know what I say? Fire them! Throw their grandmas in the snow! Take the leaches off life-support!”

The alter ego smiles patronizingly. “Now, now, let’s be realistic. We can’t win the election through anger, we should not have to, for after all I am a robot with the memory capacity to endlessly prepare and memorize talking points. By golly, I should run on the tagline: Reduce the unemployment rate by putting Mitt Romney to work!”

They laugh.

“We’re seizing the momentum,” says Bekenstein. “We’re spending $16.8 million on political advertisements this week, outspending Obama by about $1.3 million for the first time in the entire election. When including our rich Super PAC friends, we’re spending $31.4 million to the Obama camp’s $19.7 million.”

Suddenly Monson hears a scream.

“What was that?!” the church leader yells.

“The old Romney3000 broke out of his cage!” shouts Fehrnstrom. “He got Bekenstein!”

“I’ll tell you who’s gaining back his momentum!” shouts the old Romney3000 lunging atop his alter ego.

“My perfectly coiffed hair!” shouts the Romney3001.

The two robots wrestle to the ground. They push apart and stand, begin circling like boxers.

“What’s happening over there?!” Monson shouts into his phone.

“The robo-Mitts are identical, I can’t tell which is which!” exclaims Fehrnstrom.

“I’m the real Mitt Romney!” says one.

“No, I’m the real Mitt Romney!” says the other.

The second presidential debate was quickly approaching.

“What do we do?!” asks Monson. “How will we ever tell apart the identical Mitt Romney robots?!”

Will Good Romney or Bad Romney take the stage against Barack Obama in the second presidential debate? Tune in next week to find out.