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Seamus the dog : An explanation

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Seamus is the dog who won’t die, politically at least.

A dog. Not Seamus. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Almost three decades after former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney put the dog in a cage strapped to the roof of his family truckster — ok, it was Chevy station wagon — the issue continues to, ahem, dog him on the campaign trail.

John Brabender, the chief strategist for former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign, was the latest to hit Romney for the Seamus story. “Quite frankly, I’m not sure I’m going to listen to the value judgment of a guy who strapped his dog to the top of the roof of his car and went hurling down the highway,” Brabender said on CNN on Wednesday. (Make sure to read Phil Rucker’s terrific story on the history of Seamus.)

But, why is Seamus still relevant? Hasn’t this dog had his day?

Before we get to that, a caveat: With the economy still struggling and with the nation’s debt running rampant, what Romney did with his family dog 30 years ago isn’t likely to be a major factor in the 2012 election. (Brabender acknowledged as much in an interview on MSNBC today saying that Seamus is “not going to become the center, core issue of this campaign.”)

Still, it’s worth exploring why the Seamus story continues to kick around the political world. There are two main reasons.

1. Romney is uncaring: In a political world increasingly defined by the “99 percent” narrative, Romney, a multimillionaire, has struggled somewhat — to be kind — to make clear to people that he empathizes with the common man. While the Seamus incident has nothing to do with Romney’s wealth, it has become symbolic for some of the approach that he takes to life.

After all, his critics will note, this is someone who made his fortune by coming in to companies, often hollowing out their existing staffs and then selling them for a profit. (The Romney pushback is that the companies he worked with at Bain Capital were either just getting off the ground or already failing, which is why he needed to step in.) Still, if you don’t know much about Romney, which most general election voters still don’t, the whole Seamus story can be used by his political opponents to paint him as cavalier and unconcerned about the well-being of others — from those in the 99 percent to, yes, even dogs.

2. Romney as othe r: The idea that Mitt Romney isn’t like you and me is perhaps his biggest problem — both in the Republican primary and if and when he gets to the general election. From his upbringing (his father was the governor of Michigan and ran for president) to his wealth to his Mormon faith, everything about Romney screams “different”.

Romney’s awkward style on the stump has exacerbated the problem; he often comes across as totally clueless about how to relate to people when he is not delivering a speech or participating in a debate. (Make sure to check out the highlights — or lowlights — of Romney’s awkwardness here.)

The Seamus incident reinforces the “Mitt Romney is not like you” narrative. For many people the idea of putting a dog (even one in a cage) on the roof racks of your car is the equivalent of putting one of your kids up there. It’s unfathomable. It’s other. It’s different. And that’s why it’s a problem.

Look, Mitt Romney’s fate as a presidential candidate doesn’t hinge on Seamus. But, it would also be dumb to overlook the potential impact this story, which has received massive amounts of media attention throughout the campaign, might have.

Remember: People vote for president less on policy than on personality. They want to feel like the president “gets” them in some meaningful way. Seamus complicates Romney’s ability to close that deal with not-insignificant number of voters.

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