Political Animal


April 02, 2012 5:03 PM The Rock Star Romney

By Ed Kilgore

Every day there’s at least one headline coming across the transom that doesn’t make you laugh, cry, cheer, or think, but simply scratch your head in puzzlement. Today’s winner is from Politico’s Lois Romano: “Ann Romney is the Romney Democrats Fear Most.”

Having been the victim of an unfelicitous headline on more than one occasion, I didn’t immediately blame Romano for this one—until I read the lede:

Ann Romney’s unexpected rock star status has the political arena buzzing about how her husband’s campaign will leverage her popularity in an election in which Michelle Obama — one of the most admired first ladies in history — will have an outsized and substantive portfolio.
Indeed, this 62-year-old grandmother’s contribution to Mitt Romney’s campaign could amount to the most relevant role a wife has ever played in a presidential effort — softening the edges of a flawed and awkward candidate who struggles to connect with voters.

Huh! Everybody thinks Ann Romney is a “rock star?” I did not know that. The “political arena” is all abuzz about her? Missed that, too; the buzzing must be confined to weekends, when I kinda check out from politics as much as possible.

If you read this long piece, however, it begins to appear that most of the buzzing Romano is hearing is coming from busy bees inside the Romney campaign itself. And Ms. Romney’s “rock star” status seems to be a reflection not so much of her political virtues as of her husband’s political vices. At various points in the piece, it’s asserted that Ann Romney is the antidote for Mitt’s problems with the conservative “base,” his problems connecting with regular folks, and his problems in conveying any sort of authenticity at all.

The sense that Mitt Romney needs his wife to be a “rock star” comes out most clearly when you read Romano’s comparisons of Ann Romney today to Michelle Obama in 2008:

In 2008, the Obama campaign totally miscalculated Michelle’s potential. They sent her just into African-American communities and black churches. Before long, mouthy conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly was calling her an angry black woman, and she was skewered for saying: “For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country.” Fearing she was becoming a liability, campaign officials enlisted White House insider Stephanie Cutter to help retool her image and develop her own interests to push. Michelle Obama soon emerged as a superstar of the campaign — a fashion icon and role model for young women.

Now I’m certainly a fan of Michelle Obama’s political skills; I wrote a fairly early column in 2008 suggesting that Republican efforts to demonize her would backfire.

But I don’t think anyone in 2008 was under the impression that Barack Obama had a long list of personality defects that he needed his spouse to offset or explain away for him. And if, as Romano puts it, Michelle Obama was “a superstar” in 2008, I think it’s safe to say her husband retained top billing.

Perhaps the most revealing thing about the Romneys as a team that Romano’s account mentions is that their handlers can’t decide whether Ann is more valuable on the road as a speaker, or behind the scenes as a steadying influence on the candidate. It sounds like Mitt needs a road manager and a psychologist as much as he needs a dazzling opening act. Indeed, he seems to be a very needy dude, and a presidential campaign that depends to much on a spouse to fulfill multiple roles may really just need a better act.

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.


  • Mike on April 02, 2012 5:18 PM:

    Well, it seems that Ann Romney has already committed her first Romney-like gaffe of the season, unintentially suggesting that her husband unzip his zipper and whip it out!


    That's not what she meant, obviously, but she sure seems to have his way with words!

  • T2 on April 02, 2012 5:33 PM:

    "a flawed and awkward candidate who struggles to connect with voters."

    hummm.....and his wife will fix that? I'll give Ms. Romney props for not appearing to be a Stepford like McCain's wife or Gingrich's intern/wife. But in reality I'd imagine an LDS wife probably has more in common with a Stepford. Just wait until the press/Media start asking her which of her two Cadillac's get the best milage and which La Jolla eatery she favors most.....we'll see how she does.

  • stormskies on April 02, 2012 5:33 PM:

    This is just total fucking bullshit. No matter who Ann Romney is she can't change the actual policy ideas of her buffoon husband who supports, among other things, pig shit Ryan's war on the poor in order to help the rich even more. Or the buffoon's desire to end Planned Parenthood, and to eliminate Medicare, change social security, and of course his complete stupidity about all things linked with foreign affairs: the Soviet Union is are biggest enemy. And, of course, to eliminate the Affordable Care Act so that the millions upon millions of Americans who don't have health insurance because they can't afford can suffer at the hands of the profit making health care industry.

    This is just more corporate media fluff and puff shit, the shiny lure that they are paid to create so as to try to distract attention from the actual reality of ANY REPIGLICAN POLICY and it's real suffering effects for the vast majority of Americans.

  • MuddyLee on April 02, 2012 5:36 PM:

    If they really think she can help the campaign, why not give her the VP nomination? It would be an improvement - I think - over 2008.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on April 02, 2012 5:40 PM:

    People really take Politico seriously, don't they? But that's just the same nitwits talking among themselves who aren't really aware that votes outside the Beltway count too.

  • cal on April 02, 2012 5:42 PM:

    Ann helped cost Mitt the election against Ted Kennedy. In an interview in the Boston Globe Ann tried to say that they weren't always rich why, "when they were first married and starting out they were so poor "they could not even entertain as much as they would have liked". She's just as out of it as he is.

  • Barbara on April 02, 2012 5:52 PM:

    I am pretty sure that Lois Romano used to write the Reliable Source for the WaPo -- that is, she is as much a celebrity as a political journalist.

  • Rachel Q on April 02, 2012 6:09 PM:

    In 2008, the Obama campaign totally miscalculated Michelle's potential. They sent her just into African-American communities and black churches.

    Funny, I had the privilege of seeing Michelle Obama speak to an all-white audience in rural Iowa on Jan 1, 2008. The campaign already seemed to consider her an enormous asset, and there was lots of buzz about her skills. But I'm sure Politico wouldn't fail to research their subject or try to rewrite history. :)

  • ericfree on April 02, 2012 6:31 PM:

    Well, she's trying to create, or, possibly, procreate something. I'd say she's trying to procreate a book.

  • thebewilderness on April 02, 2012 6:51 PM:

    Michelle Obama soon emerged as a superstar of the campaign — a fashion icon and role model for young women.

    It just never effing stops, does it. Never. Ever.

  • Oh my on April 02, 2012 7:28 PM:

    Asked about criticism that Romney is "too stiff," Ann Romney laughed and replied, "I guess we better unzip him and let the real Mitt Romney out because he is not!"

    @ Mike

    Thanks! I haven't laughed that hard in a while.

  • Clem Yeobright on April 02, 2012 7:28 PM:

    THAT is why Mormons have more than one wife: one for home and one more for the road!

  • Felicia on April 02, 2012 8:29 PM:

    I have no problem with Ann. Of the Romney clan (Mitt and sons), she is the most likeable. However, she can't change the fact that Mittens is a neophyte when it comes to foreign policy; he's tacked so far to the political right that he's got to hug that tar baby all the way through the general election; and he has no clue what working and middle class people have to deal with financially.

  • c00p on April 02, 2012 10:24 PM:

    Mrs Romney is probably a rock star in the same circles that Kid Rock is.

  • venezia on April 02, 2012 10:37 PM:

    The Romney sons have said she's the "Mitt stabilizer".

    Does that imply he's unstable otherwise?

  • anon's honey on April 02, 2012 11:16 PM:

    She's no rock star. She displays the same atypical stare the sons of Romney have. That tea-partier eerie stare.
    And it was quite a weird way she had of dealing with the "what about Mitt being so stiff" question, as she subsequently spoke of "unzipping the Mitt."
    Strange how could she have missed the inevitable double meaning--- weak, and zombie-ish of her, just like kind of alienated in general. Like a big creepy bunch of inauthentic fickle stuff thrown at us in the news.

  • Ron Byers on April 03, 2012 12:51 AM:

    Ann Romney has become important because Mitt is losing big time to the President with women. Some nitwit in the campaign figures that by promoting Ann Romney with women they will return to Mitt. The Romney campaign planted the piece in Politico. They probably wrote it and let Lois stick her by-line on it. Shocked? We are talking about Politco aren't we?

    Anyway, it won't work. The reason Mitt is falling so far behind the President is primarily because the Republicans have openly declared war on American women and have intentionally taken the wrong side on most issues many American women find important. If the Romney campaign wants to win women he will tell American women he is going to protect their reproductive rights, he is going to make sure they have access to contraception and family planning, he will actively support ways to insure their kids get good educations and can afford to go to college, he will promote employers to create good jobs for them and their husbands, and he will tell them that he is not going to let the Republican party trash the social safety net. Since Mitt is running as a "severe conservative" that isn't going to happen.

  • Anonymous on April 03, 2012 2:42 AM:

    never heard of many voters voting for a president based on his spouse, though it might add favorability to his character a bit. nor many voters vote for one based on VP.

    my guess(hope) for the election is that Romney will get some big points this summer when gas price goes up and the republican convention will heat up the base.
    but Obamacare will uphold and gas price will come down and first major part of withdraw from afghanistan start by fall. iran won't go nuclear and there will be no israel strike. TPP will be created. US will continue assisting syrian transition more and more.
    economy continues to improve slowly without much change in unemployment. Euro won't collapse.

    overall, most people will feel the worst is over, with mixed feelings of "more of the same" and optimism for 2013. Obama will be reelected with Dem Senate and Rep House (with a bit fewer tea partiers)

    Bush tax cut expiration and 1 trillion cut will be postponed until 2013 or 2014 when economic recovery is stronger with a new congress.


  • anon's honey on April 03, 2012 9:38 AM:

    Sorry, but putting Ann Romney out to curry favor with voting women is the same disingenuouus pursuit we saw with Santorum's sweater vest and casual jeans. Voters are not going to be that easily manipulated.
    And none of us have heard that Ann Romney disagrees with her husband's ongoing war on women.

    Think Progress has nicely delineated
    "Mitt Romney’s TOP FIVE Attacks on Women’s Health Care

    1. He’s going to ‘get rid of’ Planned Parenthood. In his most blatant attack on basic women’s services, Romney made this claim: “Planned Parenthood, we’re going to get rid of that.” Of course, as a Presidential candidate Romney surely knows that Planned Parenthood provides essential medical services, primarily to low-income women, including mammograms and pap smears, as well as important family planning services. Romney has pledged to defund Title X, a program that provides family planning services.

    2. Romney supports the Blunt Amendment which would allow employers to deny health insurance coverage on the basis of moral objections — a rule aimed at allowing employers to opt out of providing any benefits that they personally object for more or less any reason, including contraceptive coverage. This rule would essentially put your boss in your bedroom — and in between you and your doctor. But as governor of Massachusetts, Romney required all health care providers– including Catholic hospitals — to offer emergency contraception to rape victims.

    3. Romney is fighting a covert battle against contraception, even if he is doing his best not to call it that. While Romney used to be firmly pro-choice and pro-contraceptives, he has positioned himself in the campaign to be a fighter for morality, saying that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposes a “secular vision on America” by requiring employers to provide contraceptives in their insurance coverage. He is also misleading the public on what the ACA will do for women.

    4. Romney failed to condemn Rush Limbaugh’s characterization of Sandra Fluke as a “sl**.” Romney said “it’s not the language I would have used,” but refused to go any further in condemning Limbaugh’s attacks on the Georgetown Law student who testified in support of the ACA’s contraceptive rule. In not standing up for basic women’s rights, Romney’s complacency is as good as consent.

    5. Romney supports restricting access to abortions. He has called Roe v. Wade “one of the darkest moments in Supreme Court history.” He’s even said that he’d support state constitutional amendments to define life at conception, which would effectively outlaw abortions under any circumstance."

  • Rich on April 03, 2012 10:49 AM:

    Romano was one of the Washington Post's many dim lights and it's no surprise that she wound up at the rightwing Hoover Institution in her travels to Politico. Ann Romney previously has kept out of the limelight and judging from her recent comments, that's probably been the best role for her.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on April 03, 2012 11:45 AM:

    Hmmm... Re Ann Romney, she really is a trooper in standing behind her man during his campaign. I imagine campaigning as a potential First Lady is hard enough without the hubby saying saying dumb shit every time he opens his mouth... literally. I wonder if she ever tried to talk him out of running. She, of all people, should know all of his weaknesses. So I'm rather perplexed that she wouldn't have sat him down in the beginning and had a "you-know-how-you-say-dumb-shit-when-the-folks-are-around-and-how-none-of-the-little-kids-at-church-like-you" conversation. Or at least threatened to shove her arm up is ass and work him like puppet if he didn't stop talking stupid...

    Maybe I have too much pride to be able to let any man o' mine embarrass himself (and me, actually) for the whole world to see, campaigning for a job that really isn't his calling.