Once again, it’s been inferred that the candidate’s wife might do a better job running for president than the guy who’s been auditioning for the part.
Only I don’t remember the joking suggestion — and yes, that’s what this was — ever before coming from the wife herself. Saturday in Michigan, Ann Romney ribbed her husband Mitt a little bit: “Maybe I should just do all the talking and let him just stand here and watch me. I’ve also decided: No more debates. If we’re going to do another debate, he’s going to sit in the audience and watch me. And that’ll be it.”
There’s a long list of political wives who might have made better candidates, and in some cases, better presidents, than their husbands.
In 1992, many people thought that Hillary Clinton should have run for president instead of Bill Clinton. Even some of those close to the Clintons called her the brains behind the man. Bill Clinton used that to his advantage by often touting that voters would “get two for the price of one.”
Of course, in 2008, Hillary did run for president, and she lost.
The same was true of Elizabeth Dole in 1996 when Bob Dole ran against Bill Clinton. Her speech at the Republican National Convention in San Diego that year wowed the crowd when she avoided the podium and walked through the audience a la Oprah style to connect with delegates.
Liddy Dole made a White House bid in 1999 but left the race before any primaries, citing poor fundraising.
Then there was the late Elizabeth Edwards, a wife who stood by her husband through two presidential runs and nightmarish political scandals. No doubt, she would have been a strong White House contender. In 2007, Keith Olberman said that Elizabeth Edwards should be the next president in a Q&A with New York magazine. She certainly had the support, the charisma and the brains.
Michelle Obama, too, has often been cited as smarter than her husband. The Obamas’ friends have said that they thought she would be the one to run for president instead of Barack Obama. Could she make a run for it in 2016? Highly doubtful, but some have already speculated she may run for the U.S. Senate.
Sure, candidates’ wives are often more popular than the candidates, for whom they serve as “humanizing shields.” More commonly, they are known as "secret weapons.” The Romney camp has dubbed Ann as such. Michelle Obama, too, possesses the moniker. So did Elizabeth Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Dole and many other wives.
Should more of them be running? They already spend endless hours on the trail, shaking hands, wooing crowds and holding babies for photo ops. They know the talking points as well as their spouses. They sit through enough debate prep and actual debates that they probably know more about domestic issues and foreign affairs than some members of Congress.
Ann Romney hit a home run on Saturday with her remarks, at a moment Mitt Romney needed her to. His Cadillac remarks have become a joke and a sign that he is out of touch with middle America. Even in Michigan, where he grew up, he spoke awkwardly, saying the trees there “are the right height.”
Ann may well take heat for her remarks, and maybe some Romney campaign staffers will wonder if they have a budding Teresa Heinz Kerry on their hands.
How will Ann Romney's remarks poll? Did she make a boo-boo? Somewhere a staffer is worried about that very thing at this very moment. But I say: Keep going, Ann. A candidate needs to be able to take a joke, after all, even from his or her spouse.
Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.” Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker