By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 9, 2007
BOSTON -- Tagg Romney, 37, loves the Sox and has a thing for Billy Joel. Matt Romney, 35, always tunes in to "Saturday Night Live," and Josh Romney, 31, likes to surf and water-ski. Ben Romney, 29, hesitates to call his dog, Kingsley, a half yorkie and half poodle, "a yorkie-poo." And Craig Romney, 26, a Tom Brady look-alike, has 337 friends on MySpace and cites his dad, along with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., as his heroes.
Wholesome does not really begin to describe the five adult children of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who for the past few weeks have been sharing such details on Five Brothers, their blog and the most popular feature on the former Massachusetts governor's campaign Web site. The blog is yet another medium to convey the image of dedicated family man that is an essential part of Romney's identity as a candidate. Earlier this week, while most of his opponents introduced themselves during the Republican presidential debate by highlighting their résumés, Romney started with, "I'm a husband, a father, a grandfather . . . ."
One way to measure a blog's popularity is its unpopularity, and Five Brothers has gotten enough attention to inspire parody. A blogger mocking the brothers writes: "Tagg is 37 . . . likes . . . basketball . . . horses, travel . . . trust funds . . .."
Such carping does not seem to faze the Romneys. "It's a cynical world we live in, and my brothers are just being ourselves," says Tagg, sitting at campaign headquarters at this city's North End, where he keeps an office. Adds Matt: "Our goal is for people to get to know our dad a little more differently than they might in a 30-second TV spot. To get to know him through his family. So everyone's blogging."
The image of the Romneys as the perfectly polished all-American family has been a theme since Mitt Romney began his career in politics. During Romney's unsuccessful 1994 Senate run, his wife, Ann, known as the family's CFO (chief family officer), told the Boston Globe that she has never had a serious argument with her husband.
The comparison with other candidates is implied, and occasionally has become explicit. Asked earlier this year what distinguishes her husband from the rest of the field, his wife of 38 years replied, "He's had only one wife," a stinger that seemed to be directed at the thrice-married, twice-divorced Rudolph W. Giuliani (R), who is estranged from his two children.
There is at least some danger that if the family seems too perfect, the approach could backfire.
"Romney's family is a central part of his identity, and it's a very effective counterpunch to some of the other high-profile candidates who've had, and are having, familial woes," says Gil Troy, historian of first couples and author of "Mr. and Mrs. President: From the Trumans to the Clintons." "Yet you also have to think that we're not in the age of 'The Brady Bunch' anymore. We're in the age of 'The Simpsons.' "
"Once upon a time, when you say 'family,' you think 'all American.' Now when you say 'family,' you think 'dysfunctional.' "
The presidential campaign blog dates back to March 15, 2003, the day former Vermont governor Howard Dean (D) launched Blog for America. Most of the leading candidates maintain blogs, the same way they post YouTube videos and update their MySpace profiles. But often the candidates use their blogs in a limited way, recycling press releases, sticking to talking points and failing to convey a sense of personality. Like the Romney brothers, the former senator John Edwards's (D-N.C.) family is an exception to this rule, but wife Elizabeth has not posted an entry since mid-April and daughter Cate, a first-year law student, since late December. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) keeps a very busy blog, as does Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), but their bloggers are paid staffers.
And while Giuliani asks supporters to embed widgets, the equivalent of traditional campaign buttons, on their blogs, he does not have a blog, and his children, Andrew and Caroline, are not mentioned in the former New York mayor's official bio on his Web site.
Five Brothers was launched on April 12, and the Romneys post entries, load photos and videos several times a week. The blog is edited by the campaign communications staff, and comments and questions are allowed, though answers are not guaranteed.
A query such as, "Being a Mormon, does Romney campaign on Sunday?" gets a reply -- yes, Romney tries to make it -- while something like, "Have any of the five Romney brothers, all healthy heterosexuals well under 42, considered volunteering for military service in the Global War on Terror?" is ignored.
Mostly, you get to know more about the Romneys with every subsequent posting:
Everyone in the family -- Mitt, Ann and their five boys -- graduated from Brigham Young University. All sons are married; all but one of them have children. Romney, whose 10 grandchildren call him "Papa," does not have much of a sense of humor.
"The problem is that he thinks he's pretty funny and may try to break out some of his "Mitt humor" as the brothers call it," wrote Tagg before his dad's appearance on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."
After U.S. News and World Report compared Josh to the young actor Ashton Kutcher, the brothers exchanged e-mails and came up with famous look-alikes for each other. On a blog entry titled "Separated At Birth," Josh's photo was next to Kutcher's, Matt's was next to the television journalist Bob Woodruff's and Tagg's was next to Booger's, the nose-picking, smart-mouthed pothead character in "Revenge of the Nerds."
On Mother's Day, the family's million-dollar manse in Belmont, Mass., about 20 minutes from Boston, was filled with lilacs, Ann's favorite. The flowers are an annual tradition.
It's all family, all the time, most of it simple, earnest G-rated fun. It's highly unlikely that the first blogger controversy of the race, when John Edwards's bloggers resigned over controversial comments they had made before joining his campaign, would spill over to Romney's site.
On the blog's most popular entry, Josh asked readers to name the family's newly purchased used RV, which he will be driving to the 99 counties in Iowa. Suggestions poured in, some funny, not all of them supportive.
"Heck on Wheels."
"Less Talk Express."
The brothers settled on "The Mitt Mobile: A Five Brothers' Bus."
"I can't believe we didn't think of that one growing up. We actually nicknamed the car my dad used to drive the 'gray grunt,' " Josh wrote. "It was an old silver Chevy Caprice Classic that was full of dings and dents, a true lemon that he drove for years. I have Tagg searching for a picture right now."
Of course Tagg, who has authored the most entries, posted the photo.
"The blog does a really good job of humanizing the candidate," said Colin Delaney, founder and editor of Epolitics.com, a one-stop shop for tools and tactics of online campaigning. "I'm impressed by the consistency and the quality of the posts, which seem real and not scripted. Of course, this is politics, so of course at some level it's scripted. . . . But it feels sincere, and that's what counts when you're trying to reach an audience."