How “Saturday Night Live” can hurt Mitt Romney

at 11:59 AM ET, 04/09/2012

The opening of “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which pilloried former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney as a core-less politician willing to tell his audience what it wants to hear (literally), got us to thinking: Could the explosion in popularity of news/comedy hybrid shows hurt Romney in the general election?

First, let’s look at the “SNL” clip:

The image presented of Romney is, obviously, not a favorable one. (Also, we are not yet in love with Jason Sudeikis’ impression although the use of the phrases “jiminy cricket” and “japes” is vintage Romney.)

And, it reinforces the prevailing conventional wisdom about Romney — that he is a politician’s politician who simply doesn’t have a strong set of beliefs about, well, anything.

Yes, this is a comedy show. And yes, it airs at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday night when many people — including, often, the Fix — are already long asleep. But, it would be a major mistake to underestimate the influence “SNL” and other comedy/news shows can have on the perception of Romney (or any other politician).

The obvious example of the influence of these shows on politicians’ images is the Tina Fey impression of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin during the 2008 race. Fey’s take on Palin — as a flighty, political gunslinger, proud of what she didn’t know — became who the former Alaska governor was to many Americans. Fey’s Palin became a sort of cultural icon — so much so that Palin herself referenced the impression during her stint as a co-host on the “Today Show” last week.

But, while Fey-as-Palin is the most cited example, the daily commentary on both “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” — both of which air on Comedy Central — have proven to be as, if not more, influential in shaping the daily conversation of the political world. While neither of those shows do the massive ratings of a show on broadcast television, their influence on what people are talking about spiders in myriad ways. (Sidebar: Those two shows do as much politics, if not more, than the evening news broadcasts these days.)

Given that power, Romney needs to be aware — and wary — of the potential danger “Saturday Night Live” and other comedy/news shows present to him.

Most people in the country still have little sense of who Romney really is. The process of the next few months will be for his side to introduce him in a positive light even as President Obama’s campaign seeks to cast him in a negative light.

Shows like “Saturday Night Live” will participate in that introduction process too. While Romney can’t control how they present him, he could take matters into his own hands and try to get on one or more of the shows. It’s always harder to make fun of someone who’s a good sport. Or that’s what the Fix Mom always told us.

 
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