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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 Journalreported 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.
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 Journalreported 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.