Commentary Magazine


Romney’s Campaign Goes to the Dogs

It’s been a rough week for Mitt Romney since getting swept last Tuesday in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri. Rick Santorum has caught up to or passed him in the national polls. Even worse, a new poll of Michigan Republicans shows him trailing Santorum in his home state of Michigan. Losing Michigan could kill his hopes of winning the GOP nomination. But if that wasn’t bad enough, now the dogs, or more specifically liberal dog owners, are mobilizing against him.

As the New York Times reports, a small group calling itself “Dogs Against Romney,” showed up outside Madison Square Garden in New York today to garner a little free publicity while the Westminster Kennel Dog Show was being held there. A dozen protesters with pooches in tow carried signs saying “Mitt is Mean,” which was intended to reference a story about a Romney family trip in which their dog Seamus was transported in a dog carrier on top of the car. The organizers and, no doubt, President Obama, hope this odd tale will, as the Times helpfully notes, serve “as a window into Mr. Romney’s character.” The group is an obvious front for the Democrats, so it is unlikely this publicity stunt will cost the GOP candidate too many votes in Republican primaries. But if you actually get into the details of the story, rather than the popular caricature of it that has Romney literally tying some poor dog to the roof of a car, the charges of animal cruelty fall flat.

As Michael Kranish and Scot Helman related in their book, The Real Romney, excerpted here in Vanity Fair, the truth is not quite that bad, even if it is unusual. According to the book, Seamus traveled in a carrier atop a station wagon that was overcrowded with five boys and the family luggage during a lengthy car trip on a summer vacation in Canada. It’s not clear the “hulking Irish setter” would have been more comfortable inside the car rather than atop it though Seamus’s need to relieve himself apparently ran afoul of Romney’s decision to stick to a strict schedule of rest stops. That aside, as anyone who has owned a dog knows, they love to stick their heads out of the window and enjoy the breeze, and Seamus certainly would have liked that aspect of his transportation.

Moreover, the story does actually provide a window into Romney’s character, though not necessarily of the “mean Mitt” variety. Presented with the problem of how to convey his large family and large dog on a car trip, Romney sought to come up with a solution that would make both his family comfortable and not inconvenience Seamus. Thus, as Kranish and Helman write, the future GOP candidate built a makeshift windshield for the carrier to accommodate the dog. The worst you can say of Romney is that the story demonstrates, as the authors claim, “a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management.”

In an era when children are expected to wear helmets under virtually all circumstances of play, there are those who will say the Seamus story illustrates Romney’s indifference to the safety of his dog. But if that is cruel, then so are farm owners who allow their dogs to ride in the back of their pickup trucks.

Of course, Romney could have bought or rented a bus or some larger vehicle in order to allow everyone more space. But that would have contradicted another basic premise of Romney’s character that Kranish and Helman write about: though he is extremely wealthy, he’s also very cheap. That is not the worst trait for a man who seeks to cut back the size of government if he gets to the White House.