What was Mitt Romney thinking?

Why offer Rick Perry a bet? Why $10,000? Enter the robotic mind of the Republican presidential candidate

By Nick Arvin

Published December 27, 2011 5:00PM (EST)


For this original fiction series, we asked writers to imagine what some of 2011's biggest newsmakers were thinking at pivotal moments during the year. We'll publish a new piece every day this week; to read earlier posts in the series, click here.

Look at Perry. Look at him talking. Be attentive. Remember what they told you. Relax. Be calm. Be confident. Be yourself. Don’t tense up. That’s when I get in trouble. Too tense. Smile.

Don’t forget, smile with the eyes.

Perry: “I’m listening to you, Mitt, and I’m hearing you say all the right things...”

He thinks he’s got something on me. Where’s he going?

It’s OK. Relax. Be yourself. Like staff said, Let Mitt be Mitt!

Of course, that’s what staff always says.

Got a feeling in my teeth. Like gnawing inside my teeth.

Perry: “but I read your first book...”

The book again. My “first” book. Implying what? That I revised it. Everyone revises between editions, Perry.

Look at him smile!

Jeez, it’s like something’s chewing the inside of my teeth.

OK, OK, get a feeling like this in your body, it probably means something. Some type of physio-emotional response mechanism.

I know what this means. The gnawing in my teeth. I figured this one out before. I remember it. Means I’m angry.

This book thing, again, really makes me angry. Makes me feel like tiny hamsters are inside my teeth gnawing my teeth.

Perry: “Now I know it came out of the reprint of the book, but, you know, I’m just saying...”

He’s done this before, and it’s not true, per se, and he’s going right back to it. And why? Why? The guy isn’t even in the race anymore. He had his chance, up in the polls, everyone ready to love him -- and he blew it. He’s toast. He knows it. But he hangs around, brings this up again. Why? Why? Look at him smile! Pure maliciousness.

Gah, my teeth.

Feels exactly like tiny hamsters gnawing inside my teeth.

Remember, tiny hamsters do not live in my teeth. I’m angry. Be yourself.

I have got to cut him off on at the knees on this.

How do I do that?

Let Mitt be Mitt. What does Mitt do when he’s angry?

His teeth hurt.

What else?

It’s like I told Baier. People should be better informed. It’s really that simple. But apparently that sounded snooty somehow.

Relax, Mitt! Relax!

Be yourself!

I should strangle punch bite wet willie the guy.

Perry: “...you were for individual mandates, my friend.”

I have got to stomp him for this.


No. No. I’m not relaxed. I’m angry. I have tiny hamsters in my teeth.

Perry looks like a hamster, actually.

Tiny little Rick Perrys are eating the inside of my teeth, and I have to stomp him.

Be yourself. Let Mitt be Mitt.

So, OK, that means what?

Let Mitt = Mitt.

When you think about it, it’s just terrible advice. Be yourself. What’s that supposed to mean? Really? Whatever you do is you, right? You = you. If you act like a monkey, then you are the guy who acts like a monkey. Whatever you do becomes you. How can you be anyone other than yourself?

And, on the other hand, if I could be Reagan right now, what would be wrong with that? They’d love that.

Now my fingertips are buzzing. What’s that mean?

He’s grinning -- grinning! At the audience!

Have to step in, say something here. Say, “You know what, you’ve raised that before, Rick, and you’re simply wrong...”

Perry: “It was true then. It’s true now.”

Be. Yourself.

And smile! Don’t forget the eyes.

Or be Reagan.

OK. What would Reagan do? Reagan would...



Make a joke.

OK. A joke.

Hey Rick, what’s got a hundred heads, 600 eyes, and 95 legs? No. Skip it. Even the kids didn’t think that was funny.



Gosh, first my teeth, and now it’s like small motors are whirring inside my fingertips. That’s an old feeling. I used to get that feeling when Dad gave me that look, like he couldn’t believe I was his son. What is that feeling?

Remorse? Maybe?

Actually, come to think of it, maybe the buzzing fingers are anger too.

OK, I’m not Reagan. No one is Reagan but Reagan. Reagan’s dead. So he can’t respond to queries. I can’t know what Reagan would do.

Mitt ≠ Reagan. Let Mitt = Mitt.

Step back. Try it this way: Mitt = what? What are the higher-order variables in the equation of Mitt?

Mitt is business-smart. Knows numbers. Knows how to assess a risk. When to make a bet.

A bet! That’s great!

Is it? Is it great? OK, a bet, maybe a bet. Reagan might bet. Consider. I offer a bet, what’s his countermove?

  • Perry accepts bet. Facts will be checked. And he’s wrong! I win.
  • Perry declines bet. He looks like a wimp. I look like Reagan. I win.

No win for him. Win win win win for me. That’s really super optimal.

Say, “Rick, I’ll tell you what.”

Wow. Teeth, fingers and now my lungs are seething, too.

Extend hand.

I’m going to bet him! This is great. Not smiling so hard now, are you, Perry? You’re looking at me looking at you, and I’m smiling, and you’re wondering, aren’t you? Going to bet, my friend. How much to bet? Need a number. X. How to establish X. Let’s see.

  • X can’t be too small. Rick, I’ll bet you a penny. Sounds like a joke.
  • X can’t be too big. Rick, I’ll bet you a hundred million dollars. I could liquidate some assets. Does Perry have a hundred mil? Probably not. Audience will think I’m joking.

That didn’t narrow it down much.

But there’s a trend there. Graph? Graph!

Yes! That’s it. Second-order quadratic. Now calculate the maximum of the curve, considering the audience average age and income times unemployment rate times average Des Moines home price to the power of price of a bushel of corn times the square root of average bushels per acre -- let’s see -- carry the 1 -- round up.

Say, “Ten thousand bucks?”

Now I’ve got him. Look at him. Smile fading.

Say, “Ten thousand dollar bet?”

Look at him fade!

Perry: “I’m not in the betting business.”

Say, “Ooooh. OK. OK.”

Yes! I win! Out of my teeth, Perry!

That was some kind of weird feeling. Emotions are hard to figure. But actually, I think that one might have been hate.

Look at the audience. Look at them looking at me.

I win, right?

My lungs are seething. Termites wandering around inside my lungs. What’s that one?

Could be anxiety.

Nick Arvin

Nick Arvin's new novel, "The Reconstructionist," will be published in March. He is the author of the novel "Articles of War" and the story collection "In The Electric Eden."

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2011 Fiction: Behind The Headlines Books Fiction