Mitt Romney's sons on 'Conan': Why so much focus on pranks?

Mitt Romney as prankster has been a campaign theme of late – and his five sons played it up again Wednesday on 'Conan.' Why this might not work for Romney, image-wise.

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    Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney applauds after addressing a crowd of supporters with his wife Ann and their sons Matt, Josh, Craig and Tagg behind him during a Romney for President Iowa Caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 3.
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Mitt Romney’s five sons were on “Conan” Wednesday night. That’s kind of an unusual grouping for a late-night talk show – five guests can’t fit on the requisite couch, so two sons (Ben and Matt) had to stand behind the others. But enough about the logistics. How did it go? Did Team Mittster fare OK with Team Coco?

Well, Conan O’Brien himself was fairly gentle. There weren’t any jokes about "RomneyCare," dressage horses, car elevators, or family dogs strapped to the roof of a car. In that sense, we think Romney campaign officials should be pleased.

However, in a section devoted to true/false questions, Conan did ask if their dad’s hair “is chiseled out of imported mahogany.”

“That is true,” said a son. We think it was Josh. They all look alike, which is why Conan had them wear name tags.

But we do have a question about this attempt to humanize the presumptive GOP presidential nominee via family appearance. Why the emphasis on pranks? On Father’s Day the Romney camp put out a video that emphasized Romney père’s alleged penchant for playing fun on folks. That was a big theme on "Conan," as well. Tagg told a story about his dad painting letters on a friend’s shoe heels at that friend’s wedding. When the friend in question kneeled for a blessing (that would make it a Roman Catholic wedding, not a Mormon one), the letters spelled “HELP” to the audience.

“I’m not sure they’re still friends,” said Tagg. Or was it Ben?

It’s possible that the prank emphasis was Conan’s idea, but we don’t think so. It seemed like something his staff had discussed with the Romney clan in the pre-interview. The Romney sons even had tape of an incident in which they had imitated ex-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on a phone call to their dad, who at the time was trying to land a Schwarzenegger endorsement.

Then they talked about the senior Romney’s fondness for holding up, say, butter, and asking victims to smell it to see if it had turned. Then he smashes it into their faces.

“Is he going to be doing that kind of thing if he’s elected president?” said Conan. “’Mr. Bernanke, I’m worried about these figures.’ Then, mush!”

We’re not sure talking about pranks really works for Romney, image-wise. First of all, he’s been accused of taking them too far when he was a youth, and shaving off the hair of an unwilling fellow student at Detroit’s Crankbrook School.

Second, as Conan implicitly noted, is prankstering a presidential quality? (OK, it is probably just as presidential as the ability to “slow jam” the news. Which still doesn’t fully answer the question.)

Just the appearance of the obviously hearty Romney sons was perhaps a more humanizing touch for their father. No slouchers, gum-chewers, or obvious malcontents among them. Of course, they all have families of their own, so in a sense they’re past that stage. They’re not boys, as Conan noted. They’re a posse.

Holding up a photo of the entire Romney extended family, which is big enough to fill an Applebee’s, Conan noted that the one touch of rebellion was Ben’s shirt, which was striped.

“When you guys get together there’s a global khaki shortage,” quipped Conan.


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