Matthew Norman: My advice to Mitt Romney – do mention the horse

If Raisa’s jockey edges away, Mitt must call his wife over to tell him about her dressage horse, Rafalca

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The Independent Online

The putative next leader of the free world arrives today, and you will all join me in extending a warm welcome to Willard Mitt Romney. The saviour of the Salt Lake City Winter Games of 2002 is in town both to look presidential and as a member of the "Olympic Family" (the planet's second most lovable, after the Mansons).

One hopes he has a ball at Friday's opening ceremony, though you have to be concerned for Mittens in such company. He is famously clueless at the small talk required to grease the wheels of a glittering party. He could find himself reduced to a mumbling wallflower amid all the Brangelinas, Beckhams, Clooneys and myriad other global pin-ups foregathering in Stratford. So, should the Republican presumptive nominee read this (and I can't think of any reason why he shouldn't), here are a few bespoke conversational tips to ease him through the minefield.

With David Cameron, he should steer the chat towards equine humiliation. The two will already have covered geopolitics at a Downing Street pow-wow. The PM, having snubbed Romney on his recent visit to the US, is obliged to make amends now that the stalled recovery in US job creation gives him a decent shot at the White House. Romney will be fine reassuring Cameron that he is a foreign policy pragmatist, and not the kill-'em-all hawk he played in the Republican debates with the Am-Dram cast of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. But you know how awkward it is, soon after a formal meeting, when you bump into the same guy by the lift, and a humorous shared experience is the way to go if things gets sticky on Friday night.

"Hey, David, I saw your guy Coulson and that Brooks woman have been charged," is the opening ceremony ice-breaker of choice. "Which reminds me, I have a funny story about being embarrassed by a horse!" If Raisa's jockey edges nervously away, Mitt must grip his arm and call wife Anne over to tell him about her horse, Rafalca, which is competing in the Olympic dressage.

When the Democrats put out an attack ad featuring the animal doing those equestrian balletics that make dressage so captivating, the Romneys dismissed this as a foolish distraction. With the GOP desperate to paint Obama as an elitist ponce insulated from the privations of his people, nothing could be less relevant than a Republican candidate worth some $250m, whose wife blows hundreds of thousands on such a Joe Sixpack kinda sport. What is dressage if not Indy car racing for the quarter billionaire?

Also at Friday's bash will be Mr Tony Blair. With him, Romney should discuss religion – specifically, the agony of being a devout follower of a proselytising faith he cannot mention in public. Despite three years as a Mormon missionary in France and later rising to the rank of bishop, Mitt doesn't do God either. If the religious chatter breaks down, "I hear you also get a rough time for hiding your tax arrangements" could get him out of a hole.

With Ed Miliband, the proposed topic is robotics. While the Labour leader is rapidly outgrowing the Milibrandroid tag, Romney still appears built from the blueprint rejected by Gene Roddenberry, on obsolescence grounds, for Star Trek's Commander Data. Faults in his positronic circuitry continually cause him to blurt lines – "corporations are people"; "I like being able to fire people" – ill-designed to counter the smear of plutocratic elitism.

Yet Mitt isn't a one-trick dressage pony who must restrict himself to fellow politicos. He also loves his sport. His five sons, their wives and his 18 grandchildren congregated at his $18m New Hampshire lakeside home recently for the annual festival they call the "Romney Olympics" (motto: richer, richer, richer).

So he will certainly want a word with IOC member Nadia Comaneci. "How do you do all those impossible twists and turns, somersaults and back flips, and still land on your feet, grinning?" the golden girl of 1976 might ask this peerless political gymnast. The only reason his spine didn't snap when he contorted himself into apologising for introducing universal(ish) health care in Massachusetts is, of course, that he has no backbone at all. The roster of flip-flops across the policy mat would fill a 27-volume compendium, the most gruesomely topical being his erstwhile support for stronger hand gun legislation. No longer.

Somehow he has landed on his feet, and the grin grows wider. The genius of Republican politics is to coax the dirt-poor to vote against their own economic interests, and according to the best judges there is a 35-40 per cent chance that he will win on the pledge to increase, rather than reverse, Dubya's tax cuts for the wealthy.

So in wishing Mr Romney a good time on Friday, the fingers are crossed that he proves himself a worthy defender of Baron de Coubertin's hatefully-overquoted Olympic maxim. With the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney, please God it is not about winning, but the simple joy of taking part.