Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ann Romney

Romney Has No Time for Surrogates

As anyone who has ever seen Mitt and Ann Romney up close can attest, there’s little doubt that the would-be first lady seems to be more of a political natural than her husband. While the Republican presidential candidate can seem awkward at times even in small groups, his spouse has the ease and grace of a seasoned professional. So it’s little wonder that not only is Mrs. Romney a popular GOP attraction on the stump, but that the media has begun to focus not only on what she is saying but also her role in her husband’s campaign. Both the New York Times and Politico ran features about her today in which her fierce defense of Mitt’s attitude toward women, as well as his campaign strategies, are examined. If the stories are to be believed, Mrs. Romney’s position is that her husband should be left alone to be who he is and that Republicans should be spending more time talking about his virtues rather than carping about tactical mistakes.

She’s probably right, but the arguments about how best to portray the candidate go to the heart of the problem. Mrs. Romney is quoted as admitting that her husband isn’t very good at telling people stories about himself, especially the really flattering ones about his compassion for others. But that’s not something that his wife, or anyone else for that matter, can do for him. In the end, voters are looking to evaluate Romney, and not a surrogate’s version of him. That’s why tonight’s debate, when he will finally be alone on the stage with the president, is so important.

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As anyone who has ever seen Mitt and Ann Romney up close can attest, there’s little doubt that the would-be first lady seems to be more of a political natural than her husband. While the Republican presidential candidate can seem awkward at times even in small groups, his spouse has the ease and grace of a seasoned professional. So it’s little wonder that not only is Mrs. Romney a popular GOP attraction on the stump, but that the media has begun to focus not only on what she is saying but also her role in her husband’s campaign. Both the New York Times and Politico ran features about her today in which her fierce defense of Mitt’s attitude toward women, as well as his campaign strategies, are examined. If the stories are to be believed, Mrs. Romney’s position is that her husband should be left alone to be who he is and that Republicans should be spending more time talking about his virtues rather than carping about tactical mistakes.

She’s probably right, but the arguments about how best to portray the candidate go to the heart of the problem. Mrs. Romney is quoted as admitting that her husband isn’t very good at telling people stories about himself, especially the really flattering ones about his compassion for others. But that’s not something that his wife, or anyone else for that matter, can do for him. In the end, voters are looking to evaluate Romney, and not a surrogate’s version of him. That’s why tonight’s debate, when he will finally be alone on the stage with the president, is so important.

Though mainstream media outlets are attempting to feast on inside information about his campaign that seems like a teaser for a future “Game Change” style expose of the GOP effort, the backbiting about letting Mitt be Mitt or whether Ann is protecting him too much against those trying to turn the campaign around is irrelevant. So, too, is the debate expectation game that both Republicans and Democrats have been playing in which they seek to inflate their opponent’s standing while deprecating their own man’s likelihood to emerge the victor in Denver.

The point isn’t whether Romney wins or loses, since both sides are sure to claim victory no matter what happens. The chances that the president’s media cheering section will ever admit he was bested, even if he clearly was, are nil. But what can happen tonight is for the American people to see Romney at his best, quoting facts and figures and demonstrating his complete grasp of many complex issues while also being able to destroy his opponent’s arguments. That’s the Romney we saw in some, though not all of his debates with his Republican rivals last winter. That Romney didn’t need his wife to explain him to the public or to defend his campaign strategies. With less than five weeks to go before Election Day, there is simply no more time left for surrogates and strategies to either help or transform Romney’s candidacy. He must either demonstrate his ability to go toe-to-toe with Barack Obama or start thinking about going home.

While Ann Romney is an able surrogate, a sure sign that Romney has gotten back on the right track after tonight will be if we see fewer of these stories about her and whether she is a positive or negative influence in his Boston headquarters. Though she may be a positive influence for him and his party, only Mitt Romney can affect the momentum swing he needs to win in November.

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Romney and Conservative Critics Should Focus on Obama, Not Each Other

The carping from conservatives is clearly starting to get on the nerves of the Mitt Romney campaign. The candidate’s No. 1 supporter vented a little of that frustration yesterday when in an interview on Radio Iowa Ann Romney chided critics of her husband’s efforts by saying:

“Stop it. This is hard. You want to try it? Get in the ring,” she said. “This is hard and, you know, it’s an important thing that we’re doing right now and it’s an important election and it is time for all Americans to realize how significant this election is and how lucky we are to have someone with Mitt’s qualifications and experience and know-how to be able to have the opportunity to run this country.”

Mrs. Romney’s reaction is understandable. There is something terribly off-putting about the condescending attitude of writers like Peggy Noonan who wrongly attacked the candidate for quickly pushing back on the administration over the Libya debacle and then jumped on the 47 percent video with both feet. Beset as the Romney campaign is by a hostile mainstream media and a ruthless and nasty Democratic attack machine, the last thing she or anyone else associated with her husband’s candidacy needs is a shot from what is presumably their own side. What she wants is for all those opposed to President Obama to close ranks behind Romney and to push back on the narrative that he is failing. No doubt many conservatives feel the same way. But as much as some of the conservative kibitzers are off the mark, it must be admitted that their angst is merely the inevitable product of Romney’s gaffes and a campaign that has not exactly inspired confidence.

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The carping from conservatives is clearly starting to get on the nerves of the Mitt Romney campaign. The candidate’s No. 1 supporter vented a little of that frustration yesterday when in an interview on Radio Iowa Ann Romney chided critics of her husband’s efforts by saying:

“Stop it. This is hard. You want to try it? Get in the ring,” she said. “This is hard and, you know, it’s an important thing that we’re doing right now and it’s an important election and it is time for all Americans to realize how significant this election is and how lucky we are to have someone with Mitt’s qualifications and experience and know-how to be able to have the opportunity to run this country.”

Mrs. Romney’s reaction is understandable. There is something terribly off-putting about the condescending attitude of writers like Peggy Noonan who wrongly attacked the candidate for quickly pushing back on the administration over the Libya debacle and then jumped on the 47 percent video with both feet. Beset as the Romney campaign is by a hostile mainstream media and a ruthless and nasty Democratic attack machine, the last thing she or anyone else associated with her husband’s candidacy needs is a shot from what is presumably their own side. What she wants is for all those opposed to President Obama to close ranks behind Romney and to push back on the narrative that he is failing. No doubt many conservatives feel the same way. But as much as some of the conservative kibitzers are off the mark, it must be admitted that their angst is merely the inevitable product of Romney’s gaffes and a campaign that has not exactly inspired confidence.

Let’s specify that some of those conservatives who are being singled out for not being loyal soldiers like Bill Kristol are the same people who were telling us a year ago that the GOP needed a better alternative to Barack Obama than Mitt Romney. Romney is the same person today that he was in 2011 when most conservatives were not in love with him. But just as it was the case a year ago that there was no better GOP option available in the primaries, the candidate is the only hope for those who are appalled at the idea of four more years for Barack Obama.

Whether the Romney campaign is a model of political genius or not, now is the moment for conservatives to be focused on pointing out the administration’s deceptive policies on Iran, the Libya debacle (as our John Podhoretz points out in his column today in the New York Post) as well as the fact that the president has no plan for fixing a broken economy other than class warfare rhetoric and more taxing and spending. Win or lose, there will be plenty of time for recriminations about the campaign’s shortcomings after November.

At the same time, this isn’t the moment for the Romney camp to be saying how “hard” it is to run for president. Of course it’s hard, but to those whom much is given, much is expected. All it will take to silence Romney’s conservative critics is a focused and successful homestretch run and strong debate performances.

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Can Dems Rekindle Obama Worship?

The Democrats’ biggest problem this year is the failed economy that Barack Obama gives himself an “incomplete” on after four years in power. Their only way to overcome this is to somehow recapture the “hope and change” messianism that catapulted Obama to the presidency. In 2008, Obama wasn’t merely the Democratic alternative to the Republicans. He was the embodiment of the nation’s hopes for itself. His election was an intrinsic achievement for every voter since it reversed a legacy of racism and conferred a certain honor on everyone who took part in his elevation. More than that, he was a put forward as a near godlike figure that was above partisan politics.

Inevitably, the reality of Barack Obama collided with the messianism. Four years later, there is a noticeable drop in enthusiasm among the young voters and others who created the Obama surge. How could it be otherwise when the president’s conduct in office has been anything but post-partisan? Four years of massive government spending, liberal patent nostrums and business as usual have made his feet of clay all too apparent.

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The Democrats’ biggest problem this year is the failed economy that Barack Obama gives himself an “incomplete” on after four years in power. Their only way to overcome this is to somehow recapture the “hope and change” messianism that catapulted Obama to the presidency. In 2008, Obama wasn’t merely the Democratic alternative to the Republicans. He was the embodiment of the nation’s hopes for itself. His election was an intrinsic achievement for every voter since it reversed a legacy of racism and conferred a certain honor on everyone who took part in his elevation. More than that, he was a put forward as a near godlike figure that was above partisan politics.

Inevitably, the reality of Barack Obama collided with the messianism. Four years later, there is a noticeable drop in enthusiasm among the young voters and others who created the Obama surge. How could it be otherwise when the president’s conduct in office has been anything but post-partisan? Four years of massive government spending, liberal patent nostrums and business as usual have made his feet of clay all too apparent.

The Democrats have sought to counter this harsh dose of reality by stoking the partisan juices of their base with a first night of their convention that ignored the political center and stuck to efforts to appeal to the left. That meant a mantra of support for ObamaCare, gay marriage and abortion even though these positions are not only extreme but of doubtful utility in winning swing states where independents are key. But most of all they seemed desperate to rekindle the Obama worship that allowed their candidate to stride out in front of his 2008 convention amid fake Greek columns and promise to turn back the oceans and not be laughed out of the stadium.

That meant not just a routine pledge of allegiance to the president’s re-election from each speaker but a willingness to treat Obama as a magical figure. When keynote speaker Julian Castro acknowledged the power of individualism that Republicans celebrated last week with their “We built it” slogan, he countered on saying that such success can only be multiplied through the intercession of the godlike president.

First Lady Michelle Obama delivered the best speech of the evening for the Democrats but her moving stories of the first family were not meant to humanize Barack Obama as Ann Romney’s did for her husband Mitt but to do the opposite. Michelle’s husband was portrayed as not so much an ordinary guy but as a superhuman creature that cares for all. She strained credulity by claiming he listens to all and cares nothing for partisan labels — an assertion that bore no resemblance to the arrogant man Congressional Republicans have tried unsuccessfully to deal with — but it was all part of an effort to go back to the stained glass image that was crafted for Barack Obama in 2008.

The incessant flow of Obama worship played well in a hall full of party zealots. The Democrats will also have the advantage of a liberal mainstream media that assisted in the creation of that false image four years ago and may be willing to go back into the tank for the Democrat. But getting the rest of the country to buy back into the baloney and to go back to swooning over the president is a more difficult task. The Democrats had a successful night in Charlotte but it will take more than a nightlong worship service to convince a majority of Americans that the “incomplete” president is still the god of hope and change they once adored.

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Convention Isn’t All About the Nominee

I don’t know if Chris Christie has read the critiques of his keynote speech last night, but it doesn’t matter much now–especially since the criticism was mostly nonsense. But it’s exceedingly important that Paul Ryan–the star of tonight’s show–does not read the reaction to Christie’s speech. There were two major complaints about Christie’s speech–which, by the way, as Politico notes, was approved by the Romney camp with no complaints. The first is that Christie spoke too much about himself, and the second is that he didn’t speak enough about Mitt Romney.

Goodness gracious. The reason Christie spoke so much about his own experience in New Jersey is because that experience has shaped the entire justification for, and communications strategy of, the Romney-Ryan campaign. They have decided to run as reformers who speak hard truths and treat voters as adults. And most significantly, with Romney’s selection of Ryan, they have decided that political “third rails” can be touched, and perhaps even stomped on a bit. They have chosen, in other words, to follow Christie’s lead.

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I don’t know if Chris Christie has read the critiques of his keynote speech last night, but it doesn’t matter much now–especially since the criticism was mostly nonsense. But it’s exceedingly important that Paul Ryan–the star of tonight’s show–does not read the reaction to Christie’s speech. There were two major complaints about Christie’s speech–which, by the way, as Politico notes, was approved by the Romney camp with no complaints. The first is that Christie spoke too much about himself, and the second is that he didn’t speak enough about Mitt Romney.

Goodness gracious. The reason Christie spoke so much about his own experience in New Jersey is because that experience has shaped the entire justification for, and communications strategy of, the Romney-Ryan campaign. They have decided to run as reformers who speak hard truths and treat voters as adults. And most significantly, with Romney’s selection of Ryan, they have decided that political “third rails” can be touched, and perhaps even stomped on a bit. They have chosen, in other words, to follow Christie’s lead.

Therefore, it is much more important for the Romney-Ryan ticket—especially Ryan—to learn from Christie how to communicate that strategy to the public in order to win support for what are thought to be unpopular, or at least very risky, ideas. Since Ryan represents more of this political risk than Romney, it’s even more important for Ryan not necessarily to mimic Christie—Ryan has to speak in his own voice, of course—but to learn how to change minds on these issues, and to hear what works and what doesn’t. What nobody needs is a convention that turns into a worshipful cult of personality. The Democrats’ 2008 coronation need not be reproduced, now or ever.

The Republican Party should not aspire to be a one-man army, and it needs to remind voters that its adherents can govern. The Republican Party, given the earmark-a-palooza and other unsavory elements of its congressional majority in the early years of this young century, is attempting to rehabilitate its reputation by projecting competence and showing itself to consist of a broad array of diverse problem solvers. Every speaker at the convention–and check the schedule, there are a great many–mentions Romney. It is only at certain times appropriate to speak at length about him. As the Politico story notes, Christie understood that:

Christie addressed this choice Wednesday at breakfast for New Hampshire and Pennsylvania delegates. With Ann Romney speaking first, Christie said in comments quoted on the BuzzFeed website, “it freed me up — remember, she was supposed to be going Monday night and because of the hurricane, it was canceled — so instead both of us were on the same night.”

“It actually freed me up to put the choice into more general terms. It allowed me to be able to let Ann Romney talk about Mitt Romney the person.”

If Ryan’s speech shies away from the issues Republicans claim are sending this country fast off a cliff in favor of platitudinous praise of the party’s nominee, it will be a monumental waste of everyone’s time, and undercut the entire rationale for Ryan’s selection as vice presidential nominee. Additionally, Ryan will be introducing himself to a certain degree tonight, or at least continuing his introduction. Let Christie be Christie, and Ryan be Ryan.

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An Important Insight From Ann Romney

Those high expectations for Ann Romney’s speech? She shattered them all to bits. As Seth tweeted afterward, “Never thought I’d say this, but Christie actually has a tough act to follow here.” Chris Christie was fantastic as usual, but Ann Romney’s speech was the pinnacle of the night.

There’s plenty to say about Ann’s remarks, but I just want to briefly highlight what I think was one of the most important lines of the evening:

“Mitt doesn’t like to talk about how he has helped others, because he sees it as privilege, not a political talking point.”

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Those high expectations for Ann Romney’s speech? She shattered them all to bits. As Seth tweeted afterward, “Never thought I’d say this, but Christie actually has a tough act to follow here.” Chris Christie was fantastic as usual, but Ann Romney’s speech was the pinnacle of the night.

There’s plenty to say about Ann’s remarks, but I just want to briefly highlight what I think was one of the most important lines of the evening:

“Mitt doesn’t like to talk about how he has helped others, because he sees it as privilege, not a political talking point.”

That may be the closest answer we’ll get to the question that’s left pundits scratching their heads for over a year: what drives Mitt Romney, and why is he running for president?

The prevailing theory about Romney — that he’s an ultra-ambitious, calculating, insincere politician — has always had one major flaw. He rarely ever talks about his own acts of kindness; from closing down Bain Capital to search for the missing daughter of a coworker, to rescuing a drowning family, to lending a couple he barely knew the money to buy their first house. If Joe Biden even did a single one of these things, we’d never hear the end of it.

Politicians brag and self-promote, and Romney has done plenty of that when it comes to his business successes. But it’s surprising that a presidential candidate with personal stories like the ones above would shy away from mentioning them — and it certainly contradicts the idea that Romney will say anything to get elected. Ann Romney’s comment offers something of an explanation for her husband’s reluctance to brag, and some insight into what drives his political ambitions.

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Re: The Importance of Ann Romney

I agree with Jonathan that the most important role Ann Romney will play tonight is helping to humanize Mitt, and tell the personal stories about him that he’s either been too modest or too uncomfortable onstage to talk about himself. From the excerpts released by the Romney campaign, it sounds like that’s exactly what Ann plans to do (h/t Playbook):

“Tonight I want to talk to you from my heart about our hearts. I want to talk not about what divides us, but what holds us together as an American family. I want to talk to you tonight about that one great thing that unites us, that one thing that brings us our greatest joy when times are good, and the deepest solace in our dark hours. Tonight I want to talk to you about love.”

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I agree with Jonathan that the most important role Ann Romney will play tonight is helping to humanize Mitt, and tell the personal stories about him that he’s either been too modest or too uncomfortable onstage to talk about himself. From the excerpts released by the Romney campaign, it sounds like that’s exactly what Ann plans to do (h/t Playbook):

“Tonight I want to talk to you from my heart about our hearts. I want to talk not about what divides us, but what holds us together as an American family. I want to talk to you tonight about that one great thing that unites us, that one thing that brings us our greatest joy when times are good, and the deepest solace in our dark hours. Tonight I want to talk to you about love.”

“When Mitt and I met and fell in love, we were determined not to let anything stand in the way of our life together…I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a ‘storybook marriage.’ Well, in the storybooks I read, there were never long, long, rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once. And those storybooks never seemed to have chapters called MS or Breast Cancer. A storybook marriage? No, not at all. What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage…At every turn in his life, this man I met at a high school dance, has helped lift up others. He did it with the Olympics, when many wanted to give up.”

“…This is the man America needs. This is the man who will wake up every day with the determination to solve the problems that others say can’t be solved, to fix what others say is beyond repair. This is the man who will work harder than anyone so that we can work a little less hard. I can’t tell you what will happen over the next four years. But I can only stand here tonight, as a wife, a mother, a grandmother, an American, and make you this solemn commitment: This man will not fail. This man will not let us down. This man will lift up America!”

The delivery of the speech will, in some ways, be more important than the content. Of course she’s going to say wonderful things about Mitt; she’s his wife, and he’s running for political office. But Ann Romney has been such a key surrogate to her husband throughout the campaign because of her demeanor; where he’s been awkward and stiff, she’s been charming and genuine. That’s what her task will be tonight.

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The Importance of Ann Romney

Most political observers are eagerly anticipating New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s speech tonight at the Republican Convention and speculating on how it will stack up against other famous keynotes, be they hits like Barack Obama in 2004 or flops like Bill Clinton’s in 1988. The bet here is that Christie will hit it out of the park as the crowd laps up his confrontational style as he tears into the Democrats and President Obama. But his won’t be the most important talk from the RNC podium. Ann Romney’s speech, moved from its original Monday night slot will be a lot more important in terms of the convention’s goal of re-introducing her husband to the American public.

Romney’s biggest problem is the perception of him as a remote plutocrat. That means the usual effort to talk about Romney’s family and personal life is more important than it would normally be for a presidential candidate. Just as crucial is the fact that Ann Romney is probably her husband’s best surrogate. While it is doubtful that too many votes will affected by the question of who will be First Lady next January, Ann Romney’s discussion of who her husband really is can play an important part in not just humanizing him but in making him more likeable. Anything she does that takes down the liberal media’s portrait of the former Massachusetts governor as a heartless bean counter who tied a dog on the roof of his car will give his campaign more material aid than anything Christie says.

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Most political observers are eagerly anticipating New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s speech tonight at the Republican Convention and speculating on how it will stack up against other famous keynotes, be they hits like Barack Obama in 2004 or flops like Bill Clinton’s in 1988. The bet here is that Christie will hit it out of the park as the crowd laps up his confrontational style as he tears into the Democrats and President Obama. But his won’t be the most important talk from the RNC podium. Ann Romney’s speech, moved from its original Monday night slot will be a lot more important in terms of the convention’s goal of re-introducing her husband to the American public.

Romney’s biggest problem is the perception of him as a remote plutocrat. That means the usual effort to talk about Romney’s family and personal life is more important than it would normally be for a presidential candidate. Just as crucial is the fact that Ann Romney is probably her husband’s best surrogate. While it is doubtful that too many votes will affected by the question of who will be First Lady next January, Ann Romney’s discussion of who her husband really is can play an important part in not just humanizing him but in making him more likeable. Anything she does that takes down the liberal media’s portrait of the former Massachusetts governor as a heartless bean counter who tied a dog on the roof of his car will give his campaign more material aid than anything Christie says.

Appearances by wives at conventions have not always been that successful. In 1996, Elizabeth Dole did a star turn talking about her husband Bob and channeled Phil Donahue as she wandered about the convention floor. But the only thing that accomplished was to remind the public that the more articulate and appealing member of the Dole family was the one who wasn’t running.

There will be some of that kind of talk tonight when Mrs. Romney is speaking but unlike what happened with Liddy Dole, there won’t be a sense that she is competing with her husband. Indeed, if the speech ends with Mitt making a guest appearance on the podium it will put on display Romney’s most humanizing quality: his deep love for his wife. Every time I saw Mrs. Romney introduce her husband after a primary victory this past spring, the most striking thing about the exchange was the way Mitt looks at Ann. His lovestruck gaze was pretty much a carbon copy of the way Nancy Reagan used to look at Ronnie.

Mitt Romney won’t win the hearts of America with his wonkish ability to cite facts and figures, but his affection for his wife is a window into what is clearly his most attractive quality. The more Americans see Ann Romney and her husband with her, the more they are going to like Mitt.

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Meeting Mitt — the Likeable Enough CEO

The main task of the Republican National Convention this week is to introduce — or reintroduce, depending on your point of view — Mitt Romney to the American people. So we’ll be getting lots of biographical details, insights and testimonials during the convention sessions. In addition to that, we’re being deluged with Romney interviews. There are the soft features showing Mitt and his wife Ann at home with the kids and grandkids, such as this one run by Fox News in which we learn that there is no paid staff at the Romney New Hampshire vacation home and that everyone has chores to do (a fitting example for a nation that he intends to get back to work). And there are more substantial interviews, such as his sit-down with Politico, in which he outlined what his governing style in the White House would look like.

Not surprisingly, Romney says people recruited from the private sector will dominate his cabinet and that he will look to female business leaders, like Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman, to join his team. Running through that interview and other Romney press appearances is the question of whether he is likeable enough to be elected president. Romney appears to know that he lacks the natural ability to connect with people that most successful politicians have. And he acknowledges that personal attacks on him by the Democrats have done some real damage. That means the reboot of Romney’s image this week has two purposes. One is to soften the hard edges created by ads depicting him as an outsourcing, heartless plutocrat by showing the dedicated, hard-working family man that he really is. The other is to convince voters that what they need is not someone who will feel their pain and make eloquent speeches about it but a C.E.O.-in-chief who can fix the economy, a result that will pay a dividend to every American family.

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The main task of the Republican National Convention this week is to introduce — or reintroduce, depending on your point of view — Mitt Romney to the American people. So we’ll be getting lots of biographical details, insights and testimonials during the convention sessions. In addition to that, we’re being deluged with Romney interviews. There are the soft features showing Mitt and his wife Ann at home with the kids and grandkids, such as this one run by Fox News in which we learn that there is no paid staff at the Romney New Hampshire vacation home and that everyone has chores to do (a fitting example for a nation that he intends to get back to work). And there are more substantial interviews, such as his sit-down with Politico, in which he outlined what his governing style in the White House would look like.

Not surprisingly, Romney says people recruited from the private sector will dominate his cabinet and that he will look to female business leaders, like Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman, to join his team. Running through that interview and other Romney press appearances is the question of whether he is likeable enough to be elected president. Romney appears to know that he lacks the natural ability to connect with people that most successful politicians have. And he acknowledges that personal attacks on him by the Democrats have done some real damage. That means the reboot of Romney’s image this week has two purposes. One is to soften the hard edges created by ads depicting him as an outsourcing, heartless plutocrat by showing the dedicated, hard-working family man that he really is. The other is to convince voters that what they need is not someone who will feel their pain and make eloquent speeches about it but a C.E.O.-in-chief who can fix the economy, a result that will pay a dividend to every American family.

Politico notes that Romney’s pledge to try to get into the weeds on issues with his staff and do his own thinking, rather than being force-fed solutions by his staff to rubber stamp, sounds reminiscent of Obama’s ponderous decision-making. But Romney’s proven managerial abilities, his knowledge of the fine line between necessary delegation and abandoning responsibility, and formidable powers of research analysis provide a strong contrast to the president’s style. Above all, Romney promises accountability to the voters. Unlike the president’s grandiloquent pledges of hope, change and turning back the oceans, Romney’s ideas are far more concrete and down to earth and are far better suited to the business of fixing what’s wrong with the country.

Nevertheless, the Republicans understand that Romney won’t win a straight popularity contest with Obama, and that is a huge handicap in any presidential election. The president’s likability is somewhat overrated. The admiration he inspires has far more to do with his historic status as the first African-American president than his personality. But that, along with the cool he exudes, has greater appeal than Romney’s “Father Knows Best” persona.

As today’s Washington Post poll shows, despite the tremendous advantages that Obama possesses in terms of incumbency and his place in history, he is still deadlocked with his GOP opponent. Romney doesn’t have to be more likeable than Obama. But he does have to convince more Americans that he’s got the right stuff to lead the nation. Based on the evidence of the Republican rollout this week, he’s made a good start.

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Don’t Blame the Networks

Republicans are crying foul because ABC, CBS and NBC won’t be carrying a minute of coverage of the first night of their convention next week. That’s a blow to the GOP since it means one of their best speakers and appealing personalities — Ann Romney — will have a smaller audience watching on television than she might have gotten to kick off the Tampa event. Democrats have their own beef as it’s been announced that the following week when their own gathering convenes in Charlotte, NBC will skip the Wednesday night session in order to avoid any interruptions of the National Football League’s opening game between the Giants and the Cowboys. That means a smaller audience for former President Bill Clinton as he makes the nominating speech for President Obama.

This is seen by some as a cynical move by the networks who are accused of placing money making above their civic duty. A disgruntled Romney advisor told the New York Times, “I don’t think it’s the decision that Bill Paley would have made” — a reference to the head of CBS during its so-called “golden age” of network news with Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. Maybe Paley would have run coverage of Ann Romney’s convention speech instead of a rerun of “Hawaii Five-O” — the show that will be aired on CBS while the candidate’s wife talks. NBC and ABC are also running crime show reruns during this slot. But don’t blame the networks for choosing sleuths over the candidate’s spouse. If they are treating the two national party jamborees very differently from the way Paley and his colleagues did in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, it is because the conventions are different.

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Republicans are crying foul because ABC, CBS and NBC won’t be carrying a minute of coverage of the first night of their convention next week. That’s a blow to the GOP since it means one of their best speakers and appealing personalities — Ann Romney — will have a smaller audience watching on television than she might have gotten to kick off the Tampa event. Democrats have their own beef as it’s been announced that the following week when their own gathering convenes in Charlotte, NBC will skip the Wednesday night session in order to avoid any interruptions of the National Football League’s opening game between the Giants and the Cowboys. That means a smaller audience for former President Bill Clinton as he makes the nominating speech for President Obama.

This is seen by some as a cynical move by the networks who are accused of placing money making above their civic duty. A disgruntled Romney advisor told the New York Times, “I don’t think it’s the decision that Bill Paley would have made” — a reference to the head of CBS during its so-called “golden age” of network news with Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. Maybe Paley would have run coverage of Ann Romney’s convention speech instead of a rerun of “Hawaii Five-O” — the show that will be aired on CBS while the candidate’s wife talks. NBC and ABC are also running crime show reruns during this slot. But don’t blame the networks for choosing sleuths over the candidate’s spouse. If they are treating the two national party jamborees very differently from the way Paley and his colleagues did in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, it is because the conventions are different.

Back then, they were deliberative political bodies where real issues were debated and voted upon while other, often even more important decisions, were decided in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms off the convention floor. The broadcasts of the conventions weren’t a civics lesson so much as they were a highly dramatic and colorful display of the political system at work. Though some parts could be excruciating, they were often dramatic. And like the NFL contest that many Americans will sensibly prefer to Bill Clinton next month, the outcome won’t have already been decided before the game begins.

The last national convention whose outcome was in doubt prior to its opening was in 1976 when incumbent President Gerald Ford narrowly fended off a challenge from Ronald Reagan and his resurgent conservative movement. Through some speculated about the possibility of a brokered Republican convention this year, that mouth-watering possibility for political junkies was no more likely to happen this year than it has any other presidential year for the last generation. The parties have created a nomination process that makes such an outcome unlikely if not impossible. Neither Republicans nor Democrats will ever have any interest in producing a good spectacle that will mean their side will be unable to prepare for the general election until September. Nor do they relish the political bloodletting and internecine warfare that a deliberative convention would bring.

So they give us what makes sense for them: a highly scripted television show in which the candidate picks all the speakers and dictates the contents of their speeches. Each convention is no more than a lengthy infomercial. Their only resemblance to the past when the nation would sit by their radios or televisions listening with bated breath as the roll call of states voting is the setting in an arena.

Under these circumstances, the parties are lucky that the broadcast networks still give them three free hours of coverage for each convention. Those addicted to politics can watch the cable news networks or C-Span.

It’s true that there was something to be said for the past when anyone with a television set was forced to watch gavel-to-gavel convention coverage. But most Americans now have hundreds of channels to choose from and are no longer dependent on three middle-aged liberal white guys to tell them what the news was at 6:30 each evening.

If the parties want more coverage of their conventions, they should give us something more interesting to watch. Since that is antithetical to their political fortunes, they should pipe down and get the staged charades over with as we head to the fall campaign. And anyone who wants to watch an interesting political convention can rent “The Best Man.”

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Personal Attacks and Political Wives

The heated debate about whether Ann Romney said “you people” during an interview yesterday (she didn’t) was an example of the sillier controversies that tend to engulf candidates’ wives. (For another example, see: Michelle Obama accused of spending $50,000 on lingerie).

But it’s strange how much partisan vitriol is actually channeled into these debates. Take Salon’s Joan Walsh’s enraged column on the Ann Romney “you people” remark that never actually happened:

Ann Romney is too well-bred to call African-Americans “you people” in public, of course, especially after what happened to Ross Perot. But she obviously has no problem referring to other folks she holds in contempt that way. Of course Romney has displayed contempt for certain African-Americans – like when she and her husband told the Obamas to “start packing,” because in Ann’s words, “It’s Mitt’s time. It’s our turn now,” to live in the White House. As if the Obamas were troublesome tenants who’d overstayed their welcome in the home that rightly belongs to the Romneys.

She displayed her plutocratic sense of entitlement when she proclaimed Hilary Rosen’s remarks about her stay-at-home-mom status “a birthday present.” Romney’s sincere reaction wasn’t outrage but opportunism; she enjoyed the sight of Rosen being grilled on a spit over a bipartisan open flame. Good to know it’s all about you, Ann.

So Walsh mishears one mundane line from Ann Romney, and takes it as evidence that she’s an elitist, plutocratic, entitled, narcissistic, opportunist? I wonder if Walsh’s criticism would have been so personal if Tim Pawlenty, Marco Rubio, or any of Romney’s other campaign surrogates had actually used the phrase “you people.”

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The heated debate about whether Ann Romney said “you people” during an interview yesterday (she didn’t) was an example of the sillier controversies that tend to engulf candidates’ wives. (For another example, see: Michelle Obama accused of spending $50,000 on lingerie).

But it’s strange how much partisan vitriol is actually channeled into these debates. Take Salon’s Joan Walsh’s enraged column on the Ann Romney “you people” remark that never actually happened:

Ann Romney is too well-bred to call African-Americans “you people” in public, of course, especially after what happened to Ross Perot. But she obviously has no problem referring to other folks she holds in contempt that way. Of course Romney has displayed contempt for certain African-Americans – like when she and her husband told the Obamas to “start packing,” because in Ann’s words, “It’s Mitt’s time. It’s our turn now,” to live in the White House. As if the Obamas were troublesome tenants who’d overstayed their welcome in the home that rightly belongs to the Romneys.

She displayed her plutocratic sense of entitlement when she proclaimed Hilary Rosen’s remarks about her stay-at-home-mom status “a birthday present.” Romney’s sincere reaction wasn’t outrage but opportunism; she enjoyed the sight of Rosen being grilled on a spit over a bipartisan open flame. Good to know it’s all about you, Ann.

So Walsh mishears one mundane line from Ann Romney, and takes it as evidence that she’s an elitist, plutocratic, entitled, narcissistic, opportunist? I wonder if Walsh’s criticism would have been so personal if Tim Pawlenty, Marco Rubio, or any of Romney’s other campaign surrogates had actually used the phrase “you people.”

This is the strange contradiction about candidates’ wives. Should they be viewed as members of the campaign, fair game for the same criticism and political attacks as any other staff? Or should they be viewed as extensions of the candidates’ personal lives, to be treated with respect and restraint? Melinda Henneberger touches on this in the Washington Post this morning:

I’ve routinely defended women in politics, spouses included, of course, from unfair attacks — from racist “jokes” involving Michelle Obama to trivial slams on Ann Romney’s designer T-shirt. But spouses are full partners in the current campaigns, strategically and every other way, just as they ought to be.

And at some point – right now would be my preference – we’ve got to stop pretending that they are by definition off-limits, or ought to be.

After all, Michelle Obama is heading up a new get-out-the-vote initiative — the “It Takes One” program to encourage grass-roots turnout efforts. She’s cutting ads, and as the Post’s Krissah Thompson wrote, taking on an “overtly political role that is rare for a first lady.”

Ann Romney, meanwhile, is raising money and giving a series of high-profile interviews — answering questions about possible veep choices by saying “we” haven’t made any decision yet.”

These women are leading the charge, not sitting home asking how it went, and as they stand on stage, microphones in hand, it’s absurd and even infantilizing to claim that they should be left alone.

Henneberger makes a good point. Candidates’ wives are often deemed “off-limits” for typical political attacks. And when they are criticized, it tends to be for petty issues and infused with a disproportionate amount of animosity. But these women are active on the campaigns, and it makes sense that they should be fair game. Of course, that would also mean toning down the personal attacks and viewing these women as political figures rather than extensions of the candidates.

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Ayotte Veep Speculation Mounts

VP buzz around Sen. Kelly Ayotte was already growing before she joined the Romney clan on vacation in New Hampshire yesterday. But Ann Romney has thrown fuel on it by telling CBS the campaign has been considering a female VP pick:

Ann Romney says her husband is considering a woman for the ticket—and admitted she’s been playing a big role in the VP search, too, according to an interview with CBS News.

“We’ve been looking at that,” Ann Romney replied, when asked if her husband should pick a female as his No. 2. “I’d love that option as well. So, you know, there’s a lot of people that Mitt is considering right now.”

While she had previously suggested she wasn’t playing a major role in the VP search, Ann Romney admitted she’s been giving the process “a lot of thought, actually” and has been offering her husband advice on his choice.

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VP buzz around Sen. Kelly Ayotte was already growing before she joined the Romney clan on vacation in New Hampshire yesterday. But Ann Romney has thrown fuel on it by telling CBS the campaign has been considering a female VP pick:

Ann Romney says her husband is considering a woman for the ticket—and admitted she’s been playing a big role in the VP search, too, according to an interview with CBS News.

“We’ve been looking at that,” Ann Romney replied, when asked if her husband should pick a female as his No. 2. “I’d love that option as well. So, you know, there’s a lot of people that Mitt is considering right now.”

While she had previously suggested she wasn’t playing a major role in the VP search, Ann Romney admitted she’s been giving the process “a lot of thought, actually” and has been offering her husband advice on his choice.

Ann Romney doesn’t specify, but who else could she be referring to other than Ayotte? The chatter about Condoleezza Rice never seemed serious, and a Tea Party favorite like Nikki Haley would draw instant comparisons to Sarah Palin. Speculation about NM Gov. Susana Martinez also seems to have tapered down after this email flap. Ayotte is still a first-term senator, but she’s already impressed the party establishment, and she’s been a prominent and effective surrogate for Romney. That said, it would still be a bit surprising if she’s being considered seriously. If Marco Rubio’s lack of experience supposedly kept him off the short list, then why would it be any different with Ayotte? They’re both freshman senators, and both very capable on the campaign trail. Maybe this is a sign there was a deeper issue plaguing Rubio?

It’s also possible that Ayotte is being vetted as a possibility (as Rubio is) but hasn’t made it onto the short list. That’s what Erin McPike surmises at RCP:

Mitt Romney may be tight-lipped about his vice presidential short list, warning that only he and longtime aide Beth Myers know who is on it, but a close examination of the campaign’s activity suggests four contenders have risen through the ranks: Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell may be considered wild cards, and Romney has said he’s thoroughly vetting Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, though the first-term lawmaker’s status appears unchanged.

That’s an interesting top four. Portman and Pawlenty are obviously very different picks than Ryan and Jindal. The first two are the safe and bland route, the second two would be far more exciting but riskier. Ryan in particular would be a game-changing choice, instantly turning the race into a referendum on his Path to Prosperity plan. Conservatives would love the opportunity to have that debate, but it would also be an uncharacteristically bold decision for Romney. Then there’s the question of whether Ryan would accept.

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Doubling Down on the War on Ann Romney

Michelle Goldberg just doesn’t know how to quit when she’s behind. The Daily Beast pundit dug herself a deep hole on MSNBC on Sunday when she made an astonishing comparison between an innocuous Ann Romney op-ed about Mother’s Day and the policies of Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Predictably, that whopper drew attention to her bad judgment as well as a desire on the left to smear the Romneys. But rather than merely admit that her analogy was inappropriate and move on, Goldberg is guilty of the same fault that she accuses the candidate’s wife of committing: trying to make herself a victim.

In her column about the incident, Goldberg refuses to apologize and puts the controversy down as just another Twitter-era fake controversy that Romney is exploiting. But before we buy into that attempt to weasel out of this, it might be apt to ponder exactly what Goldberg and the entire mainstream media would be saying if a conservative talking head on one of the cable TV networks compared Michelle Obama to Hitler and Stalin for praising motherhood of all things. However, Goldberg’s decision to air her animus for Mrs. Romney again shows that her problem goes deeper than forgetting the person who first mentions Hitler and Stalin in a debate almost always is the loser.

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Michelle Goldberg just doesn’t know how to quit when she’s behind. The Daily Beast pundit dug herself a deep hole on MSNBC on Sunday when she made an astonishing comparison between an innocuous Ann Romney op-ed about Mother’s Day and the policies of Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Predictably, that whopper drew attention to her bad judgment as well as a desire on the left to smear the Romneys. But rather than merely admit that her analogy was inappropriate and move on, Goldberg is guilty of the same fault that she accuses the candidate’s wife of committing: trying to make herself a victim.

In her column about the incident, Goldberg refuses to apologize and puts the controversy down as just another Twitter-era fake controversy that Romney is exploiting. But before we buy into that attempt to weasel out of this, it might be apt to ponder exactly what Goldberg and the entire mainstream media would be saying if a conservative talking head on one of the cable TV networks compared Michelle Obama to Hitler and Stalin for praising motherhood of all things. However, Goldberg’s decision to air her animus for Mrs. Romney again shows that her problem goes deeper than forgetting the person who first mentions Hitler and Stalin in a debate almost always is the loser.

Goldberg complains that the outrage about the incident was feigned. But that is no truer than the Democrats’ crocodile tears for Seamus the dog’s rooftop ride to Canada or the boy Mitt Romney may have hazed in high school 47 years ago. She also complains that many of the comments made about her gaffe on Twitter and e-mail are rude. No doubt they are, but for someone who writes on the Internet to complain about that sort of thing is pretty weak. As anyone who does this for a living knows, anything one writes, no matter how bland the topic, may provoke nasty comments.

But Goldberg’s not apologizing for a reason. What she resents about Ann Romney is her ability to undermine the Democratic theme of a fake Republican war on women. It that quality that is frustrating the left:

For the record, I don’t believe that Ann Romney is either Hitleresque or Stalinesque. Rather, I think she is a calculating political wife who once struck me as fairly likeable, but who is now determined to play up the idea that’s she’s being victimized for being a stay-at-home mom. Her op-ed was part of that effort. Unfortunately, if the messages I received on Monday are any indication, it’s an effort I might have assisted.

While I don’t think anyone ever accused Goldberg of being a brilliant political observer, trying to gin up an effort to portray a woman as generally admired as Ann Romney as a political villain is about as dumb an idea as has come down the pike in a long time.

As I wrote earlier today, polls seem to indicate that the voters aren’t buying the war on women as a substitute for a defense of President Obama’s failed economic policies. Neither is the war on Ann Romney.

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The War on Ann Romney

One would think the left would have learned from the Hillary Rosen debacle that attacks on Ann Romney are bound to backfire on the ranks of Obama cheerleaders. But yesterday on MSNBC, liberal columnist Michelle Goldberg appeared to escalate the attacks on the would-be first lady with a bizarre riff on an inoffensive Mother’s Day op-ed published in USA Today. Mrs. Romney’s memoir of her own mother as well as her experience raising her five boys and becoming a grandmother of 18 is about as controversial as apple pie, but her use of the term “crown of motherhood” — which she said is the “most glorious” of hats that women wear — set Goldberg’s teeth on edge.

As the Daily Caller notes, with “Vagina Monologues” playwright Eve Ensler sitting alongside and nodding at her every word, Goldberg claimed the phrase was redolent of the propaganda used by totalitarian regimes to put women in their place.

“I found that phrase ‘the crown of motherhood’ really kind of creepy, not just because of its, like, somewhat you know, I mean, it’s kind of usually really authoritarian societies that give out like ‘The Cross of Motherhood,’ that give awards for big families. You know, Stalin did it, Hitler did it.”

Later on Twitter, Goldberg denied that she had meant to compare Romney to those mass murderers; there’s little question she seemed to imply a commonality between Republican attitudes toward women and those of the Nazis and Communists. The point here isn’t that Goldberg was drawing a direct analogy. The context of her remarks show that what she was trying to say is to bolster the idea that Republicans are waging a “war on women.” And that means that everything, even the most anodyne comments by someone connected with the GOP, must be demonized, even when it is Ann Romney extolling motherhood.

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One would think the left would have learned from the Hillary Rosen debacle that attacks on Ann Romney are bound to backfire on the ranks of Obama cheerleaders. But yesterday on MSNBC, liberal columnist Michelle Goldberg appeared to escalate the attacks on the would-be first lady with a bizarre riff on an inoffensive Mother’s Day op-ed published in USA Today. Mrs. Romney’s memoir of her own mother as well as her experience raising her five boys and becoming a grandmother of 18 is about as controversial as apple pie, but her use of the term “crown of motherhood” — which she said is the “most glorious” of hats that women wear — set Goldberg’s teeth on edge.

As the Daily Caller notes, with “Vagina Monologues” playwright Eve Ensler sitting alongside and nodding at her every word, Goldberg claimed the phrase was redolent of the propaganda used by totalitarian regimes to put women in their place.

“I found that phrase ‘the crown of motherhood’ really kind of creepy, not just because of its, like, somewhat you know, I mean, it’s kind of usually really authoritarian societies that give out like ‘The Cross of Motherhood,’ that give awards for big families. You know, Stalin did it, Hitler did it.”

Later on Twitter, Goldberg denied that she had meant to compare Romney to those mass murderers; there’s little question she seemed to imply a commonality between Republican attitudes toward women and those of the Nazis and Communists. The point here isn’t that Goldberg was drawing a direct analogy. The context of her remarks show that what she was trying to say is to bolster the idea that Republicans are waging a “war on women.” And that means that everything, even the most anodyne comments by someone connected with the GOP, must be demonized, even when it is Ann Romney extolling motherhood.

Though Goldberg dismissed the criticisms of her foolish comments as a mere Twitter tempest in a teapot, it actually does tell us a lot about what liberals are thinking and why Ann Romney will be a key figure in the presidential campaign. Because Obama’s re-election hinges, at least in part, on demonizing Mitt Romney and the GOP as enemies of women, that has led some on the left to believe they are going to have to do something about his wife’s popularity.  The only problem is that Ann Romney is such an appealing figure that she is virtually bulletproof. Moreover, every attack on her is bound to backfire on Democrats.

After Rosen’s and Goldberg’s gaffes, Democrats would do well to simply ignore Ann Romney. Every time they mention her name, even to try and besmirch the Republicans, it’s a bonus for her husband’s presidential hopes.

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Was Rosen Speaking for Obama Campaign?

The firestorm over Hilary Rosen’s Ann Romney comments spilled over into a conference call with Republican congresswomen this morning, as they shot back at the Democratic strategist and claimed the Obama campaign bears some responsibility for her remarks.

The Wall Street Journal reported in February Rosen was brought on as a consultant for Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. According to Romney-backer Rep. Cynthia Lummis, Rosen gave no indication that she was “freelancing” when she attacked Ann Romney’s work record on “Anderson Cooper 360″ last night.

“Clearly [the Obama campaign is] using surrogate women, including Hilary Rosen who is a paid spokesperson, to deliver messages about Republicans that the president does not want to deliver himself for fear of the backlash,” she said.

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The firestorm over Hilary Rosen’s Ann Romney comments spilled over into a conference call with Republican congresswomen this morning, as they shot back at the Democratic strategist and claimed the Obama campaign bears some responsibility for her remarks.

The Wall Street Journal reported in February Rosen was brought on as a consultant for Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. According to Romney-backer Rep. Cynthia Lummis, Rosen gave no indication that she was “freelancing” when she attacked Ann Romney’s work record on “Anderson Cooper 360″ last night.

“Clearly [the Obama campaign is] using surrogate women, including Hilary Rosen who is a paid spokesperson, to deliver messages about Republicans that the president does not want to deliver himself for fear of the backlash,” she said.

The DNC denied the two-month-old Wall Street Journal report today, saying it had no relationship with Rosen. Spokesperson Bob Woodhouse told the Miami Herald that the DNC’s contract “is exclusively with Anita Dunn.” Rosen works at Dunn’s firm, SKDKnickerbocker, so that elucidation doesn’t really mean much (fun fact: SKDKnickerbocker is also the firm that represents Sandra Fluke).

This is a critical moment for the Obama campaign as it attempts to publicly define Mitt Romney as uncaring, out-of-touch, weird, awkward, and far right-wing. Ann Romney helps counter all of that. She’s widely liked, charming, and down-to-earth, and she’s been playing a major role in softening her husband’s image and reaching out to women voters. In other words, she’s a threat to Obama’s reelection chances. While the Obama campaign can’t chip away at her image directly, it can have ostensible outsiders do it for them. Whether that’s what happened in this case is yet to be determined, but judging from DWS’s apologetic tweet today, the DNC is trying to untangle itself from this damaging controversy as quickly as possible.

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DNC Adviser Blasts Ann Romney

On “Anderson Cooper 360″ last night, Hilary Rosen slammed Ann Romney for “never actually work[ing] a day in her life.” Within two hours, both David Axelrod and Obama campaign manager Jim Messina were scrambling to distance themselves from Rosen’s comments on Twitter.

Why is the Obama campaign so concerned? Apparently Rosen was enlisted in February to advise Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz on public relations (h/t Jim Geraghty’s invaluable Morning Jolt). The Wall Street Journal reported on Feb. 16 that Rosen was brought on to “tone down” DWS’s image:

Obama advisers have occasionally told [Wasserman Schultz] to “tone it down” and “back off a smidgen,” Ms. Wasserman Schultz says. She agreed with them to enlist two seasoned Democratic female pros, Anita Dunn and Hilary Rosen, to begin giving her occasional political advice and media training, advisers say. “I’m glad to get constructive criticism,” Ms. Wasserman Schultz says.

The media pros prepped her for an important Jan. 13 appearance on the “Bill Maher Show”—from her tone to her clothes (they know better than to suggest she blow out her curly hair, advisers say). Ms. Wasserman Schultz had lots of “don’t” instructions: Don’t make news, don’t try to be funny, don’t laugh at the comedian’s jokes, don’t use your hands (although she balled her fists at one point and did “karate chops” when making her points). Her biggest “do:” Attack Mitt Romney, which she managed to do despite the topic of discussion: Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters.

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On “Anderson Cooper 360″ last night, Hilary Rosen slammed Ann Romney for “never actually work[ing] a day in her life.” Within two hours, both David Axelrod and Obama campaign manager Jim Messina were scrambling to distance themselves from Rosen’s comments on Twitter.

Why is the Obama campaign so concerned? Apparently Rosen was enlisted in February to advise Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz on public relations (h/t Jim Geraghty’s invaluable Morning Jolt). The Wall Street Journal reported on Feb. 16 that Rosen was brought on to “tone down” DWS’s image:

Obama advisers have occasionally told [Wasserman Schultz] to “tone it down” and “back off a smidgen,” Ms. Wasserman Schultz says. She agreed with them to enlist two seasoned Democratic female pros, Anita Dunn and Hilary Rosen, to begin giving her occasional political advice and media training, advisers say. “I’m glad to get constructive criticism,” Ms. Wasserman Schultz says.

The media pros prepped her for an important Jan. 13 appearance on the “Bill Maher Show”—from her tone to her clothes (they know better than to suggest she blow out her curly hair, advisers say). Ms. Wasserman Schultz had lots of “don’t” instructions: Don’t make news, don’t try to be funny, don’t laugh at the comedian’s jokes, don’t use your hands (although she balled her fists at one point and did “karate chops” when making her points). Her biggest “do:” Attack Mitt Romney, which she managed to do despite the topic of discussion: Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters.

Despite the backlash from conservatives and the repudiation from the Obama campaign, Rosen stood behind her comments in a lengthy post on Anderson Cooper’s blog:

“My wife has the occasion, as you know, to campaign on her own and also with me,” Romney told newspaper editors, “and she reports to me regularly that the issue women care about most is the economy.”

So it begs the question, is Ann Romney Mitt’s touchstone for women who are struggling economically or not? Nothing in Ann Romney’s history as we have heard it — hardworking mom she may have been — leads me to believe that Mitt has chosen the right expert to get feedback on this problem he professes to be so concerned about.

I have nothing against Ann Romney. She seems like a nice lady who has raised nice boys, struggled with illness and handles its long-term effects with grace and dignity. I admire her grit in talking about her illness publicly.

What is more important to me and 57 percent of current women voters is her husband saying he supports women’s economic issues because they are the only issues that matter to us and then he fails on even those.

Rosen certainly helped “tone down” and “soften” Wasserman Schultz’s image last night, if only because she was the one making the inflammatory charges, not DWS. The question now is whether Messina and Axelrod will stand behind their own criticism of Rosen — that her comments were “offensive” and “inappropriate” and merit an apology. Will Wasserman Schultz and the DNC cut off Rosen’s advisory role? Or is the Obama campaign content to use Rosen as an attack dog and private consultant, while outwardly shunning her attacks on their opponent’s wife?

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The Candidates’ Wives

Out of all the speakers last night, Ann Romney stole the show when she gave an introduction of her husband, replete with an impossibly long thank you list for their Michigan victory:

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Out of all the speakers last night, Ann Romney stole the show when she gave an introduction of her husband, replete with an impossibly long thank you list for their Michigan victory:

Ann has a personal confidence and easy rapport with the audience that her husband, as much as he’s improved as a speaker, has never been able to master. She’s just likeable. When you see her speak, you think, “Well, I guess if she married him, he can’t be all bad.” And Mitt seems to realize his good fortune. As Jonathan tweeted last night, “Mitt looks at Ann the way Nancy looked at Ronald Reagan.”

Meanwhile, Rick Santorum took some time during his concession speech to talk about the “strong women” in his own life, a well-timed move considering that his controversial comments on women in the workplace are still getting picked over by pundits. It was a way for Santorum to try to erase the perception that he’s anti-women, without directly mentioning any hot-button topics. Here’s what he had to say about his mother, a woman who juggled a career and her family at a time when doing both was rare:

But my mom’s in a very — well, unusual person for her time. She’s someone who — who did get a college education in the — in the 1930s, and was a nurse, and got a graduate’s degree, even, as a nurse, and worked full time. And when she married my dad, they worked together at the Veterans Administration. That’s where they met, right after the war.

And later on, they were — they had me and the rest of the family, my brother and sister, and my mom continued to work. She worked all of my childhood years. She balanced time, as my dad did, working different schedules, and she was a very unusual person at that time. She was a professional who actually made more money than her husband.

I grew up with a very strong mom, someone who was a professional person who taught me a lot of things about how to balance work and family, and doing it well, and doing it with a big heart and commitment.

Santorum also spoke about his wife Karen, and her own decision to give up her career to raise her children:

You know, that’s probably one of the reasons that I ended up marrying the person I married here, Karen, someone… someone who’s as strong as they get, someone who is — I met when we were — when she was just about to start the practice of law and I was doing the same. I recruited her, in more ways than one, to my law firm.

Karen was a professional, worked as a nurse for nine years, and then after that, she — she — we got married, and she walked away. And she decided to stay home and raise her children, but she didn’t quit working, obviously. Raising seven children is a lot of work, but she found time also to be an author of two books, those books about — really went to the heart of the family and something that she knows a lot about.

Santorum should be telling these stories whenever he gets a chance, because they’ll help dispel the notion he’s uncomfortable with women in the workplace. As he’s said in the past, he doesn’t object to women working, but to the idea that a career is the sole path to fulfillment.

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