How to Save Ann and Mitt Romney from Themselves
In the history book of Democratic politics, the chapter titled "Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory" is a long one. Years from now, CNN regular and Democratic consultant Hilary Rosen may be prominently featured in it. After all, she may have accomplished the virtually impossible: making Mr. and Mrs. Romney seem sympathetic.
Twenty years after Hillary Clinton got into hot water for declaring "I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession," the media is having a field day with Rosen's remark that Ann Romney "has actually never worked a day in her life." And now Ann Romney - who Mitt says "reports to me" about what women care about, who claims "our riches are with our families," who joked that her spouse doesn't know how many dressage horses she owns, who protested the release of her husband's tax returns because "unfortunately" the world now knows how "successful in business" he has been, and who actively helped sell her husband as pro-choice in liberal Massachusetts - may actually be able to help the comically out-of-touch Republican nominee narrow his massive gap among women voters.
By all indications, Ann Romney is a warm, engaging, hard-working person who has continued a busy public schedule despite her battle with multiple sclerosis. Now, Rosen's comment about stay-at-home moms will, if only temporarily, obscure the truth that Ann Romney nevertheless makes her husband seem more - and not less - out of touch.
Of course, you'd never know that reading her fawning press accounts. As months of stories with headlines like "Romney Using Wife's Story to Connect with Voters", "Ann Romney Adds Personal Touch to Mitt's Campaign" and "The Ann Romney Advantage", Ann has provided her often robotic husband with a thin veneer of authenticity, compassion and basic human emotion voters immediately detect he so obviously lacks. As Politico gushed about her "unexpected rock star status" in "Ann Romney is the Romney Democrats Fear Most":
"Ann Romney, in contrast, exudes empathy and authenticity and offers a window into her husband's character."
A window, it turns out, not just into Mitt's character but into his bank account.
It was Ann who resurfaced the issue of Romney's noblesse non oblige last month when she 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." So much for her claim Thursday that "we need to respect the choices that women make.")
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."
For her part, Ann Romney gave away the game during 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, before walking away:
"That was 14 years ago and $100. Do you really think I'd remember?"
Regardless, 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."
Irrelevant, that is, until he's getting clobbered among women voters.
As Mitt now explains, Ann "reports to me regularly" on what women care about. (According to Nikki Haley, their list of concerns does not include contraception.) On Super Tuesday, Mrs. Romney revealed she had heard from women "all across this country":
"Do you know what women care about -- and this is what I love -- women care about jobs. Women care about the economy, they care about their children, and they care about the debt. And they're angry, they're furious about the entitlement debt that we're leaving our children."
As Mitt described Ann's to-do list before the Wisconsin primary:
"She's going across the country and talking with women. We have work to do, to make sure we take our message to the women of America."
And Ann's message will be whatever it needs to be for her husband to triumph on Election Day in November. Until then, Mitt's most valuable campaign surrogate Ann Romney just wants her husband to "unzip." Unfortunately, only the campaign's second most valuable surrogate, Donald Trump, appears to have taken her up on the offer. In any event, the three of them can discuss what women voters really want when they meet for Ann's 63rd birthday bash at Trump Towers later this month.
That sight will speak for itself. Unless, unfortunately, Hilary Rosen has something to say about it.