Ann Romney insisted in an interview with Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace over the weekend that the media was to blame for her husband’s loss in the presidential race last fall.
While the media is a convenient (and common) scapegoat, Ann Romney is simply wrong when she says: “I believe it was the media’s fault as well, is that he was not giv[en] — being given a fair shake, that people weren’t allowed to see him for who he was.”
Here’s why. (Make sure to read WaPo’s Erik Wemple’s piece on Ann Romney too. It’s here.)
Mitt Romney had two great positive selling points when it came to introducing himself to the American public: his business record and his faith. He talked about neither at any great length — or on the sort of terms that might have helped his chances.
Let’s start with Romney’s Mormon faith. It was no secret that many within Romneyworld viewed the fact that he was a Mormon as a major reason for why his campaign never caught on among social conservatives in places like Iowa and South Carolina in 2008.
And so, coming into the 2012 race, it was clear from very early on that Romney would not speak extensively (or really at all) about his Mormonism. Romney avoided talking about his faith even in openly religious settings; in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Romney gave his faith only a passing mention.
We understand why Romney was worried about putting his faith at the center (or somewhere close to it) of his campaign. Mormonism is still a religion with single digit percentages of adherents in the United States and its newness — within the broader scale of spiritual movements — has led to widespread skepticism.
Still, what Romney never could prove to people during the campaign was that he had a core set of beliefs — that he was something more than just a politician’s politician, willing to bend whichever way the prevailing wind was blowing. And, what’s evident from the stories that were written about Romney’s work with the Mormon church is a) it was and is a huge part of his life and b) his actions were, by and large, quite admirable, and would have endeared him to the general public.
Put simply: The story of Romney’s Mormon faith is the story of “Mitt Romney as good guy.” That story never got told. And, no matter what Ann Romney thinks, the fault for that lies not with the media but rather with the campaign or, more accurately, her husband’s discomfort or unwillingness to talk about his faith.
Then there is his business background. While Romney did talk much more openly about what he did with Bain, he was constantly cowed by the negative storyline being told by President Obama’s campaign and other Democratic groups about his work as a “vulture capitalist.”
Rather than seize the narrative — yes, I backed some companies that failed but I backed lots and lots that succeeded and here are their stories in detail — Romney wound up defaulting to a canned line about successes like Bright Horizons and Staples. As a result, the Obama campaign was effectively able to take Romney’s “successful businessman” narrative and use it against him, turning what should have been a great strength as a major weakness. (Sort of like John Kerry’s military service being turned against him by the Bush campaign in 2004.)
And, even putting aside the fact that Romney failed to sell the two best positive messages of the campaign, the “blame the media approach” comes up short again when assessing the biggest negative of the race: Romney’s “47 percent” comments.
Romney said those words. The media didn’t force him into it or play “gotcha”. He failed to remember that nothing you say is private when you are running for president of the United States. Yes, the media covered the remarks but Romney helped elongate the story by a somewhat slow response to the initial controversy and a semi-apology for what he said initially.
We are well aware that the Fix is a member of the media, and so defending the media’s role is viewed as a sort of “dog bites man” story by many people. Point taken. But, an examination of what Romney did and failed to do strategically when it came to letting people know who he really was makes clear that the blame lies firmly with the candidate, not the media.
Remember: If you are bad at tennis, it’s not the racket’s fault.
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