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April 18, 2012 11:48 AM Breaking Character

By Ed Kilgore

I don’t read her often enough to know if this is an unusual development, but in her latest column Maureen Dowd actually makes a pretty good point about the peril Ann Romney is courting by gloating in public about how she won the famous battle of Hilaryrosengate:

Shaken Democrats dived for cover and threw Rosen under the campaign bus. The media, worried about being perceived as favoring President Obama, jumped in on the side of the maligned Ann.
She pressed her advantage, scolding Rosen on Fox News. “She should have come to my house when those five boys were causing so much trouble,” Ann said. She alluded to her brave battles against breast cancer and multiple sclerosis: “Look, I know what it’s like to struggle.”
But at a fund-raiser at a private home in Palm Beach, Fla., on Sunday, the night before her 63rd birthday, Ann made it clear that she wasn’t really aggrieved. She was feigning aggrievement to milk the moment.
“It was my early birthday present for someone to be critical of me as a mother, and that was really a defining moment, and I loved it,” a gleeful Ann told the backyard full of Florida fat cats, sounding “like a political tactician,” as Garrett Haake, the NBC reporter on the scene, put it.
It’s important when you act the martyr not to overplay your hand. If you admit out loud to a bunch of people — including Haake, who was on the sidewalk enterprisingly eavesdropping — that you’re just pretending to be offended, you risk looking phony, like your husband. (It also doesn’t fly to tell Diane Sawyer that your dog “loved” 12 hours in a crate on top of the car or that it’s “our turn” to be in the White House.)

The broader issue is that politicians—and I’d put Ann Romney in that category given her prominent role in the campaign—need to be careful not to “break character” the minute the cameras are turned off, at least if anyone outside the inner circle is within listening range. If you are paying experts many millions of dollars to shape your public image, and you are pursuing a strategy in which every public utterance contributes to that “message,” you can do double damage by more or less admitting it’s all just another day’s work on the bamboozlement trail.

That’s particularly true if, like Ann Romney, you have been cast in the role of the humanizing spouse who keeps the future Leader of the Free World in touch with the experiences and perspectives of the 99.9% of the electorate who have not shared the Romney lifestyle.

I’ve always found the unwritten rule that the spouses and children of presidential candidates have to campaign as though auditioning for the Royal Family a distasteful quirk of American politics, and probably an Oedipal legacy of our beginnings as a British Colony. But once you accept that role, it’s a good idea to stay right in it to the bitter end.


Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • internet tough guy on April 18, 2012 11:53 AM:

    This is amusing because Ann was pretty much invisible here in MA, and this shows that was the right decision; it looks like Mitt is about to be burned by another flip-flop.

  • David in NY on April 18, 2012 11:56 AM:

    That's why I thought the video of Mitt talking to Sean Hannity about their wives' hobbies -- horses and tennis -- was so potentially damaging. Romney's "just between us rich guys" chat was oddly chilling.

  • Emily on April 18, 2012 12:00 PM:

    Highly unusual development. In fact, it's the first Dowd column in awhile that isn't about Oedipus complexes or composed of a series of unrelated vignettes. Any piece in which Dowd can avoid using cutesy nicknames -- "W," Rummy," "Vice" -- is above average.

  • walt on April 18, 2012 12:05 PM:

    Republicans love their relational royalty (think Nancy Reagan or Barbara Bush, e.g.). In that sense, Ann Romney is just an atavistic aspect of Real Americanness. She's white, rich, and entitled. As America changes, Republicans find new ways to evince old habits. I'm not sure the Romneys are terrible throwbacks, but it is interesting that in 2012, they're still acting as if it's 1955. For a party based on little more than nostalgia and privilege, that's not a messaging mistake so much as an identity value.

  • Lifelong Dem on April 18, 2012 12:11 PM:

    Just one more instance that proves It's Okay If You're A Republican, IOKIYAR. If Michelle Obama had EVER said anything like that, it would be a national scandal.

    Remember how the media flipped out for over a week when Barack Obama asked for dijon mustard for his hamburger?

  • Ron Byers on April 18, 2012 12:14 PM:

    I thought Ann Romney would be like Laura Bush, a gracious counter point to her clueless husband, but it turns out she is just a pampered rich woman playing the a role of her life. It's their turn. Don't believe me just ask Ann Romney.

    I know people who worked closely with George and Laura Bush for years. George may have been incurious and as a result was a disaster as President, but everyone I know who worked with them says he and Laura are thoughtful and kind personalities. They have a reputation for being friendly with the help. People who share a meal with them always have a pleasant time. I am not sure the Romneys fit into that mold.

    Maybe it is the difference between old money and the new rich.

  • TCinLA on April 18, 2012 12:20 PM:

    Nice to see that the old rule "birds of a feather, flock together" is still true. Ann Romney is as stupid as her husband. And equally "entitled" - she may not have been "born to it" but she sure has gotten used to it.

  • Robert on April 18, 2012 12:39 PM:

    "The broader issue is that politicians—and I’d put Ann Romney in that category given her prominent role in the campaign—need to be careful not to “break character” the minute the cameras are turned off, at least if anyone outside the inner circle is within listening range."

    Better advice Ed would be: 'just be yourself, it is much easier, much cheaper-you will save millions on handlers and all the other Bull Shit modern politicians spend money on- and you will quickly find out if you are destined for higher office.'

    Of course in Romney's case this advice would put him back at Bain in a heart beat. And that would be the best possible outcome for the country. For anyone out there still harboring the wish/think that Mittford is anything like his father, please forget that. His privileged upbringing in what is after all a very conservative subculture and his obvious delight in kowtowing to the far right radical wing of the modern Rethuglican Party, shows beyond any doubt that his Presidency would be worse than any modern presidency, even W's.

  • Gandalf on April 18, 2012 12:48 PM:

    What Ann Romney really shows in her comment about the dog liked it is that she and hubby are totally unaware and have no regard for anyone or anything other than themselves.

  • danimal on April 18, 2012 12:51 PM:

    Please stay away from Ann Romney as a campaign issue. She's a distraction and a wild card. The RMoney campaign is a target-rich environment, we need to pick the targets that matter. Ann Romney doesn't matter.

  • g on April 18, 2012 12:52 PM:

    In the 2004 race, Teresa Heinz Kerry was lambasted because she said something about Laura Bush never having had a "real job" - both unfortunate and untrue.

    She apologized and Mrs. Bush graciously accepted that, and wisely chose not to enter the fray.

    while it is true that we try to keep the spouses out of the political fisticuffs, they also keep their side of the bargain by choosing not to enter into the fray themselves. And when they do, they shouldn't gloat, like Ann Romney. Her gloating will be short-lived anyway - As the months go by, it's a sure bet that Ann or Mitt will say something stupid that will remind everyone how rich and entitled they are.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on April 18, 2012 12:54 PM:

    Mostly agree with danimal, but i think we need to refocus on the point that both Mitt and Ann have in common: They have neither the foggiest idea nor the least empathy about what working-class Americans face.

  • Kathryn on April 18, 2012 1:01 PM:

    Ann Romney is no Laura Bush or Michele Obama either, not ready for prime time. As she has become prominent in Romney's campaign, her true nature is showing and, to me, she's no more appealing than Mitt, a little less awkward perhaps but rather grasping and cold. I found her strutting performance at the NRA convention particularly grating. Interestingly, unlike Nancy Reagan gazing with adoration at Ronnie, when Ann is speaking, it's Mitt who appears adoring.

    When it comes to poise, personality and smarts, Michele wins hands down.

  • Peter C on April 18, 2012 1:02 PM:

    It would be really nice if our campaigns could be about more than who we'd want as Prom king and queen. We have a DEMOCRACY where we get to set the direction of our country and the character of our government. You can bet that the corporate interests funnelling such huge sums of money into the process care deeply about the technical specifics and will push with all their might to get the details to favor them. Let's make sure that WE get more than just a pretty face in the White House.

  • Artemesia on April 18, 2012 1:02 PM:

    Imagine if there was a liberal Fox News and they treated the rich material provided by this hypocrite the way they treated Hillary or Michelle or anyone they oppose?

    Ann Romney 'struggled in the early years of marriage' when they just scraped by and had to CASH OUT THE STOCK PORTFOLIO PROVIDED BY MITT"S FATHER. yeah that is the universal experience of young struggling couples -- having to dip into the stock portfolio.

    Ann Romney with her staff, her many mansions, her multimillion hobby of dressage. Imagine what the people who ridiculed Kerry for windsurfing which isn't even an expensive hobby and one that requires skill would do with a liberal who dressed up in twee britches and mounts an English saddled 100,000$ horse to put it through its paces.

    The idea that she has a clue? Ludicrous.

    As a woman who has been occasionally a SAHM and mostly a WOHM and who raised her kids while working and keeping house and participating in the community, I find the idea that this coddled clueless woman represents working women insane.

    The Romneys have no values except acquiring wealth for Romneys. And they have zero empathy. Mitt Romney's view of what women without insurance should do when his planned 'getting rid of Planned Parenthood' is successful. Why they can choose any health care provider. It works for him after all. And he struggled what with having to go to France instead of Vietnam courtesy of his church and with having to support his family by selling the stock he was given.

  • cmdicely on April 18, 2012 1:12 PM:

    If you are paying experts many millions of dollars to shape your public image, and you are pursuing a strategy in which every public utterance contributes to that "message," you can do double damage by more or less admitting it's all just another day's work on the bamboozlement trail.

    Is it just me or is the Romney campaign in general particularly prone to this particular kind of admission of manipulative opportunism?

    I mean, its not just this comment from Ann Romney, but the earlier Etch-a-Sketch comment on why primary campaign positions wouldn't impact Romney's general election prospects, and before that the campaign-ads-are-propagaganda defense of selective editing.

  • boatboy_srq on April 18, 2012 1:13 PM:

    Until the Palm Beach thing, Ann Romney seemed to be what Marie Antoinette looked like to the French in 1788: a real, usually likeable innocent completely out of touch with life away from Court. That fundraiser event shows her to be the callous, incurious, insulated/isolated/sheltered, entitled various-and-sundry we knew her husband to be some time ago. I suppose that learning that she married high-school sweetie Mitt after converting to his cult and following him through indoctrination - er, to university - should have given us a clue to her real persona.

    And no, bringing up how you abused your pet for fun and convenience isn't going to win friends, either.

  • jim filyaw on April 18, 2012 1:41 PM:

    i view the rosen-romney episode as just another evidence of this administration's tendency to jump in the lifeboats whenever an ice cube is spotted. to me 'work' in the sense i think rosen meant it is trying to hang onto a job that is the only thing standing between you and financial catastrophe. changing diapers and disciplining unruly kids might be wearisome, but confusing it with keeping your family off the streets is idiotic. in that sense, ann romney 'worked' in the same sense that her age of acquarius husband served in nam.

  • Lifelong Dem on April 18, 2012 1:41 PM:

    Two more words and then I'll shut up: Al Gore.

  • mb on April 18, 2012 2:08 PM:

    Maybe I'm just being hyper-sensitive here, but I'd like to take issue with what both MoDo and our esteemed host, Ed Kilgore have written -- or at least the manner in which it is written.

    Sounds like, while critical of Ann Romney's obvious hypocrisy, she gets a "mulligan" for this one. MoDo and Kilgore both write as though they are giving advice to Ann Romney reminding her to stay in character. I find that I am becoming weary with this type of anodyne cynicism. The issue (the Rosen comment) was a phoney controversy and Ann Romney's outrage was phoney. We all knew this before she confirmed it. Instead of pointing that out and using it as an opportunity to reiterate what a complete and total PHONEY she (and her husband) is, she's criticized for not being a good enough political actress.

  • zandru on April 18, 2012 2:22 PM:

    Another Catch Phrase for your Lexicon

    Every story like this of Romney family gaffes should be followed by the laugh-line "Uh oh! Time to shake the Etch-a-Sketch again!"

    Like an earlier commenter's suggestion when a vote in the Senate fails due to a Republican filibuster (currently known as "The bill didn't get the 60 votes needed to pass in the Senate"), state "Republicans blocked an up or down vote."

    Start ingraining catchy phrases like this to combat Republican falsehoods and propaganda. They can come up with memorable, repeatable lines - why shouldn't the Dems? We need to give the Dems all the help we can.

  • esaud on April 18, 2012 2:42 PM:

    Ann Romney is as creepy as her husband. While he is having a "heart & soul" with none other than Ted Nugent, she is on her fainting couch at Fox News.

    Her five "boys" are grown men, and she hasn't lifted a finger in years. If raising them was such a terrible "struggle", that "raising five boys" was some kind of Herculean labor for her, maybe it's because Mitt and Ann were horrible parents.

  • CharlieM on April 18, 2012 2:56 PM:

    @danimal

    Agreed. Ann Romney isn't the issue. The issue should be why Mittens thinks women's issues/concerns are so unimportant (and uninteresting?) that he deems to delegate responsibility for "keeping in touch" with his wife - a woman who shares very little with the other 99% of women in this country - rather than focusing on them himself.
    So we know he thinks women's issues are relatively unimportant, that poor people's issues are relatively unimportant ("I'm not concerned about the poor"). What other significant portion of the population that he wants to be President of is unimportant to him?
    Real issue is why he doesn't work to educate himself about women's issues/concerns rather than rely on someone else to just fill him in.
    I think if I were female, that stance would be a pretty offensive to me.

  • Barbara on April 18, 2012 3:05 PM:

    What I find chilling generally about Ann's comments (both on and off the record) is how much it sounds like she thinks it's all a big game -- that she "loves" the fact that women tell her they care about the economy (I assume because that way she thinks they are more likely to vote for Mitt), or that the Hillary Rosen incident gave her an opportunity to score points -- and so on. It's not a game when the economy makes your day to day existence precarious and means you can't save for your kid's education let alone your own retirement. The only time I really thought less of Laura Bush is when, after Hurricane Katrina, she went to the Gulf Coast and pronounced in an interview that things weren't as bad as they seemed from tv. Spouses who "become" political are accountable for their statements, but it's usually pointless to go after them. In any event, it's not necessary because the message is transmitted loud and clear even without commentary.

  • Doug on April 18, 2012 8:16 PM:

    Just a quibble, but candidates' families tended to remain in the background until Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt arrived on the national scene.
    Because of FDR's polio, Eleanor often acted in his stead on political tours, but she was also a political personage in her own right in the New York and national Democratic Party. Their sons got involved because FDR often needed help in standing up and getting to and from a podium to speak. What was more natural than a son assisting his father?
    Mrs. Truman and Mrs. Eisenhower tended to stay in the background, in and out of DC. Although she definitely was a political asset, Jackie Kennedy was more of a celebrity than anything political.
    It was that very celebrity, however, that I believe started the craze for displaying candidates' families; beginning the long, long descent to the present-day First Family "auditions".
    Face it, which would YOU prefer to look at: a picture of Richard Nixon or one of his daughter Susan?

  • GWPDA on April 19, 2012 3:34 PM:

    "Just a quibble, but candidates' families tended to remain in the background until Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt arrived on the national scene."

    Um - Alice Roosevelt. Lou Hoover. Abigail Adams. Dolley Madison. Mary Todd Lincoln. Julia Dent Grant. Edith Galt Wilson....

    Quite a lot of Presidential family involvement, well before Mrs. Roosevelt.

  • Leroy Kelly on April 22, 2012 10:17 PM:

    These comments are so mean spirited. Hilary Rosen was being hateful and when the conservatives pushed back she offered an insincere apology. Then she had the effrontery to claim she had been victimized. And by whom? Not the Republicans, their response was expected. Obama and his administration abandoned and castigated her for being inappropriate. It was Obama that caused her disillusionment. Constituents, both Republican and Democrat, are so partisan as to be blind. Neither party has any honor and sadly neither does the faithful party electorate. Disagreeing is one thing, but to hate someone for having a different opinion than us is an entirely different matter. We can change destructive politics by changing ourselves. It is no wonder that "they" do not work with each other to improve our conditions? [They] were "us" before being elected. Nothing has changed.If we were elected representatives we would be just as recalcitrant and intractable.