In Washington, even the dogs are pundits.
My dog, a two-year-old golden retriever/poodle mix named Z.Z., had her cable news debut earlier this month on MSNBC’s “The Last Word.” Host Lawrence O’Donnell had us on set to discuss Z.Z.’s membership in Dogs Against Romney.
Z.Z. lay quietly at my side, mugging for the camera, as I explained her objections to Mitt Romney driving a car with his dog tied to the roof. At the end of the segment, Z.Z. ate a treat off the anchor’s table.
“Z.Z., thank you very much for joining me tonight,” O’Donnell said. Noticing that the camera had moved back to him, O’Donnell instructed: “No, don’t shoot me. Take a shot of this down here under the desk. Z.Z. gets the last bite tonight. The Ed Show is next.”
That would be Ed Schultz, not Mr. Ed.
As I watched video of Z.Z. obediently performing, however, I realized: Z.Z. isn’t a Dog Against Romney. Z.Z. is Mitt Romney.
The similarities are uncanny. Hold a treat in front of Z.Z., and she will go through her whole repertoire of tricks — sit, shake hands, lie down, roll over — until one of them works. So, too, does Romney adopt any number of positions until he finds one that satisfies.
Likewise, Z.Z. shows unstoppable determination in pursuit of a desired object, such as a ball or a squirrel. Giving chase, she will sometimes run smack into a tree or a soccer net, then charge ahead as though nothing had happened. So, too, does Romney pursue his desired object — the Republican nomination — with such doggedness that he ricochets without visible embarrassment from gaffe (“I like being able to fire people”) to blooper (“I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners”).
Z.Z., hearing her name called in a reproachful tone, hangs her head and looks remorseful, even though she has no idea what she has done wrong. So, too, does Romney adapt his behavior to the perceived mood of his audience (“I’m learning to say ‘y’all’ and I like grits”).
The goldendoodle, Z.Z.’s breed, is playful, smart and gentle. But loyalty is not a strong point. Z.Z. has little concept of a master. She likes her human family well enough, but she probably would be just as happy going home with the UPS delivery guy if he offered her a treat. When a stranger comes to the door, she wags her tail so vigorously her hips twist; she picks up a toy and, forgetting her owners, brings it to her new friend.
To paraphrase Lord Palmerston, Z.Z. has no permanent friends, only permanent interests.
And this is what makes her so much like Romney. Consider Romney’s response when asked about his aide’s claim that the general election would be like an Etch a Sketch, erasing conservative positions he took in the primaries.
“I’m running as a conservative Republican,” the candidate told a group of reporters Wednesday after his town-hall event in a Baltimore suburb. He didn’t say he is a conservative Republican; he said he’s running as one. As if this is a persona for this particular campaign.
Conservatives are justifiably worried about his loyalty. He obeys the commands of conservatives now, because they are the ones feeding him during the primary season. But in the general election, who’s to say he won’t trot after soccer moms as breezily as Z.Z. follows the UPS guy?
An apocryphal Harry Truman quote has it that “if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” He probably should have specified a breed, such as a collie or a German shepherd. Z.Z., by contrast, was described to me by one of her trainers as a prostitute (the trainer used a different word): She places her loyalty with whoever is making her the best offer. In a town of lobbyists, this is all too familiar.
Don’t get me wrong: I love the dog. I feed her the choicest foods, send her to canine camp and doggy day care, and chase her around the house like Inspector Clouseau and Cato.
But neither can I deny that Z.Z. has a great deal in common with a certain Republican front-runner — and not just because she is good-looking and well-trained. Mostly, it’s that unsettling absence of loyalty. One recent morning, my family and I were puzzling over Z.Z.’s whereabouts because she hadn’t been seen all night. Then we found out why: She had jumped in bed with our houseguest.
This is just what conservatives fear Romney will do in the fall.
Dana Milbank’s email address is danamilbank@ washpost.com.