A close reading of Mitt Romney's secret Twitter account initially doesn't reveal that much. Under the nom de plume Pierre Delecto, the Utah senator tweeted only 10 times.
"Pierre" said nothing salacious. He composed no thoughtful threads. He instead occupied himself with the nitpicky minutiae one might expect from a retiree wielding his first social media account. "Why isn't your NH poll up on your web site?" he asked Fox News in December 2015. "Jennifer, you need to take a breath," he instructed Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin just a few months ago. "Maybe you can then acknowledge the people who agree with you in large measure even if not in every measure."
The oddest aspect of Mitt Romney's secret Twitter account was the fact that it existed at all- - that a genuinely powerful man with the time-honored platform of a U.S. Senate seat and a well-established brand as the 2012 GOP presidential nominee had chosen to become a lurker in order to communicate his positions. Such communication included seeking out Erick Erickson, a conservative blogger with a substantial but not gargantuan following, to tweet at him, "Wrong."
The account, which its owner made private after its discovery by Slate reporter Ashley Feinberg, felt unseemly somehow. It was like watching the CEO of a major corporation insist on joining the side-dish committee of the company picnic in order to lobby for his favorite small potatoes.
When Bloomberg reporter Steven Dennis tweeted out a short list of senators who had offered support to Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr, Pierre Delecto replied, "Romney, too." When Soledad O'Brien archly commented on Romney's tepid condemnation of President Donald Trump, Pierre Delecto made a point of vouching for the senator's tough-on-Trump bona fides. "Only one to hit Trump on character time and again," Pierre wrote.
And, as if to illustrate this, Romney-as-Pierre went on a mild campaign of "liking" various tweets critical of Trump. "I've always thought that 'invoke the 25th amendment!' was a misguided, futile notion," tweeted political analyst Jeff Greenfield. "But after this Tweet from the President, I'm reassessing."
Pierre Delecto contributed a heart.
Pierre Delecto wanted to make it very clear that Mitt Romney was standing up to Donald Trump, even more clearly than Mitt Romney was making it himself.
It's one thing for a regular person to behave this way, to create a puppet account for the kind of gentle political commentary that a day job and a real name might prohibit.
But Mitt Romney's day job is politics. Why would he act as though talking about politics was a subversive act that required a deep cover? Why would Mitt Romney need a shadow account to speak truth to power? Mitt Romney is power.
The sad conclusion to be reached from this account's existence isn't that it came from a place of vanity, but that it came from a place of perceived powerlessness.
"Agree on Trump's awful decision," Pierre Delecto wrote in response to an early October tweet from anti-Trump GOP operative John Weaver (it's no longer possible to trace which early-October awful decision they were discussing). "But what could the Senate do to stop it?"
Never mind that the U.S. Senate is literally the only group legally able to do anything to "stop" Trump.
Did Mitt Romney, who has voted in line with a Trump position 80% of the time, not know this?
Did Mitt Romney, who has run for president twice, simply hope the rest of America didn't know this?
If he doesn't believe that the checks and balances baked into the Constitution will actually work, then why isn't he screaming that from a rooftop instead of tweeting it to Pierre Delecto's eight followers?
I'm still trying unpack the selection of "Pierre Delecto" as a pseudonym.
Romney is not the first powerful man in recent memory to hide behind a false identity. Each time, the chosen name seemed to reveal something poignant about its adopter.
Former Rep. Anthony Weiner, sending out the world's most depressing sexts, constructed the softcore porn-ish alter ego of Carlos Danger -- the name of the kind of man whose naughty pictures might actually be appreciated. Former FBI Director James Comey, who sees himself as deeply moral and principled, dubbed himself Reinhold Niehbuhr for his own secret Twitter account, in honor of the revered theologian. Donald Trump, a man obsessed with opulence and grandeur, gave himself the landed-gentry name of John Barron when he posed as a Trump insider to make Trump-flattering phone calls to reporters.
And what of Pierre Delecto?
It's a preposterous name. It's a little bit "delectable" and a little bit "delicate;" it's the kind of name conjured up by two women in a vintage General Foods International Coffee commercial as they reminisce about a debonair stranger in Paris.
It's the name a man might choose if he was hoping to be seen as sophisticated and worldly, a man worth listening to.
Mitt Romney was already a man worth listening to. His weird fake Twitter account didn't say what he couldn't. It said what he should have been saying all along.