Ann Romney Makes Mitt Seem More Human - and More Out of Touch
By all indications, Ann Romney is a warm, engaging and, judging by her public battle with MS, courageous person. Which is why she is a constant presence on the campaign trail. As months of headlines suggest ("Romney Using Wife's Story to Connect with Voters", "Ann Romney Adds Personal Touch to Mitt's Campaign", "The Ann Romney Advantage"), Ann provides her often robotic husband with a thin veneer of authenticity, compassion and basic human emotion voters detect he so obviously lacks.
Nevertheless, for all of her laudable qualities, Ann is making two of Mitt Romney's problems worse. In every campaign he's run, her casual statements about the couple's immense wealth have reinforced the perception of the insular Romneys as completely out-of-touch with the lives of the people Mitt would serve. And as a willing accomplice in his gymnastic reversal on abortion rights, Ann Romney has helped make flip-flopping a family affair.
The issue of the Romneys' philosophy of noblesse non oblige surfaced again last week when Mrs. Romney announced on Fox News that "I don't even consider myself wealthy." Pointing out that her comments were in the discussion of her struggle with multiple sclerosis, conventional wisdom regurgitator Chris Cillizza argued, "Given that, this seems like much ado about not all that much."
Much ado about not all that much, that is, only if you ignore two decades of Ann Romney's inconvenient truths about their family's fortune.
And you don't have to travel back that far; January will do. As her husband was forced to release his tax returns showing that he paid a smaller share to Uncle Sam that most middle class families, Ann Romney deployed the same language about "how I measure riches is by the friends I have and the loved ones I have and the people I care about in my life" she used to explain life with MS:
"I understand Mitt's going to release his tax forms this week. I want to remind you where our riches are: our riches are with our families," Ann Romney said. "Our riches, you can value them, in the children we have and in the grandchildren we have. So that's where our values are and that's where our heart is -- and that's where we measure our wealth."
As ThinkProgress noted at the time, Mrs. Romney was none too happy about Mitt having to follow in the footsteps of every modern presidential candidate and release his tax returns:
At an event at Freedom Tower in Miami this afternoon, Ann Romney said "unfortunately" the world now knows how "successful in business" Romney has been.
As it turns out, Ann Romney's career as Lovey to Mitt's Thurston Howell III dates back to her husband's first run for office back in 1994. As the Boston Globe reported in an October 1994 interview, she explained how the young couple successfully struggled to make ends meet "because Mitt had enough of an investment from stock that we could sell off a little at a time." As the New York Times recalled her role in Mitt's failed attempt to unseat Ted Kennedy:
Her husband was running unsuccessfully for a United States Senate seat in Massachusetts in 1994, and Mrs. Romney was derided as superficial, pampered and too deferential to him. In a Boston Globe interview, she talked about slimming down to her high school weight (117 pounds), the investments she and Mr. Romney lived off as students, and the number of times the couple had ever argued: once.
But by the time Mitt's first run for President began in 2007, the Times reported, ""She seems much better at retail politics than her husband." But even in that glowing assessment ("The Stay-at-Home Woman Travels Well"), Mrs. Romney revealed the same penchant for cementing her husband's reputation as a man of privilege disconnected for the lives of the American people. As the New York Times explained her favorite activity in 2007:
Dressage is a sport of seven-figure horses and four-figure saddles. The monthly boarding costs are more than most people's rent. Asked how many dressage horses she owns, Mrs. Romney laughed. "Mitt doesn't even know the answer to that," she said. "I'm not going to tell you!"
But on the question of Mitt's position on abortion, Ann Romney was more than willing to tell you the answer. Of course, that answer always depended on whether Mitt Romney (the man his own strategist Michael Murphy admitted in 2005 had been" a pro-life Mormon faking it as a pro-choice friendly") was running for office inside or outside of liberal Massachusetts.
During his 2002 race for governor, Ann assured Massachusetts voters they need not worry about moderate Mitt protecting the right to choose:
ANN ROMNEY: I think women also recognize that they want someone who is going to manage the state well. I think they may be more nervous about him on social issues. They shouldn't be, because he's going to be just fine. But the perception is that he won't be. That's an incorrect perception.
MITT ROMNEY: So when asked will I preserve and protect a woman's right to choose, I make an unequivocal answer: yes.
(Just five years later, Ann Romney announced that Mitt "has always personally been pro-life." She added that "he did change his mind. It took courage" and claimed, "hasn't changed his position on anything except choice.")
During the '94 Senate campaign when her husband declared the death of a "dear, close family relative" from an illegal abortion inspired his formerly "unwavering" pro-choice position, Ann Romney put her money where her Mitt's mouth was. That fall of 1994, Ann and Mitt attended a Planned Parenthood event. During a time when he was trying to establish his pro-choice bona fides with liberal Massachusetts voters, Ann wrote a check for $150 to the organization. When presidential candidate Romney said in 2007 that he had "no recollection" of the fundraiser, then president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. Nichols Gamble seemed surprised:
"I can understand that he might not remember the check -- it's surprising to me that he would not remember the event. His main motivation for being there was a political motivation."
Whatever Mitt Romney's motivation in 1994, in 2007 his run for the GOP presidential nomination required a different answer. As Romney explained in May 2007, what his wife did - the same woman who with her entire family converted to her husband's Mormon faith - did not reflect on him. As the New York Times reported:
"Her positions are not terribly relevant for my campaign."
Ann Romney, too, suffered from a convenient bout of amnesia. In a January 2008 interview in Florida (around the 3:10 mark), a clearly irked Mrs. Romney brushed off a question about the contribution to Planned Parenthood:
"That was 14 years ago and $100. Do you really think I'd remember?"
For his part, Mitt Romney is trying to forget. After all, 10 years after Romney pledged to Planned Parenthood in a 2002 questionnaire that he would support Roe V. Wade, emergency contraception and state funding of abortion services through Medicaid for low-income women, the 2012 GOP frontrunner now wants to end all federal funding for the organization and low-income women alike.
No doubt, Ann Romney's message to them would be something like "our riches are with our families."
While that tone-deafness might sound like something former First Lady Barbara Bush might say, that's being unfair to Ann Romney. After all, Ann might indeed want to "strangle" the press, but she never called anyone anything "that rhymes with rich" or declared that evacuation from New Orleans for "underprivileged" Katrina refugees was "working very well for them" or asked "why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like" the Iraq war. (It's no wonder that an admiring Richard Nixon, an expert in such matters, said of Mrs. Bush, "she knows how to hate.") That's why the Romney campaign's robo-calls to voters from Barbara Bush might not be such a good idea:
"We have known the Romneys for years and believe Mitt is the best man to lead the country for the next four years and Ann will make a great first lady."
Mitt sure thinks so, as his saccharine sweet ads from his 2002 and 2012 attest. Ann Romney may be chronically out of touch, too, but he loves her all the same. And that, the AP explains, is how "Romney [is] working to connect personally with voters."