Ann Romney, conventional wisdom says, is her husband’s not-so-secret weapon. Well, yes and no. She humanizes him is the standard line and, wearing a lovely red outfit in her moment on the Republican convention stage on Tuesday, she was a smiling vision of warmth. But though she strings words together more fluently than the GOP presidential nominee, the words themselves — and often the tone — reinforce the idea that she and Mitt Romney were made for each other.
Romney is making the rounds in Tampa, exhibiting both the charm, as Melinda Henneberger reported from a “Women for Mitt” event, and the distance. Actually, her description of her “rocking time” campaigning in Puerto Rico, at a Latino Coalition luncheon after giving its governor Luis Fortuno a shout out wasn’t so bad. “You people really know how to party. It was crazy!” (OK, maybe aides should tell her “you people” in any context is not a good idea.)
How she explained the lack of Latino support for her husband was not as much fun. Apparently Latinos just haven’t been paying attention or don’t know any better or else so many of them wouldn’t be voting Democratic. “You’d better really look at your future and figure out who’s going to be the guy that’s going to make it better for you and your children, and there is only one answer,” she lectured, without stopping to consider the GOP might bear just a wee bit of responsibility.
So the problem is not Mitt Romney’s photo ops with Kris Kobach, author of some of the nation’s toughest immigration laws, or the GOP’s position on the Affordable Care Act that might provide health insurance to those without it. According to Ann Romney, the Republican message “would resonate well if they [Latinos] could just get past some of their biases that have been there from the Democratic machines that have made us look like we don’t care about this community.” (Even staunch Republicans like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio allow the party has some outreach to do when it comes to potential minority voters.) “We very much care about you and your families and the opportunities that are there for you and your families,” said Ann Romney.
We must take her word for it, of course, the same advice she gives the country on the family’s tax returns. She leaned in so suddenly in the televised interview, I almost felt sorry for NBC’s Natalie Morales when she asked about the tax issue this summer. “There’s going to be no more tax releases given,” Romney answered. And that was that. She seemed insulted that someone dared to go there once the Romneys had spoken instead of considering that people don’t want their stuff, just some answers.
Funny how we’re supposed to take the Romneys at their word on everything while they smile and welcome the support of Donald Trump, who won’t even take the president’s word on where he was born. Ann Romney talks again and again of her husband’s generosity of spirit, but rather than have it rub off on Trump, it’s gone the other way, with Trump’s insulting ways infecting the candidate who added a birther joke to his repertoire. Some people are to be believed, others, even the president, have to show their papers and be judged and ridiculed about something as basic as being an American.
At a Romney/Ryan rally in Mooresville, N.C., I heard first-hand the edge in Ann Romney’s campaign rhetoric, as she divided America into those in supportive crowds who “get it” and everybody else. I dismissed it as an early campaign misstep. Her tone will soften, I thought. But on that Tampa stage, she looked softer than she sounded, with few words for the women who have to choose between rent and food and may need some help along the way. I wonder if she considers the privilege of being on the right side of the rules society has set and if she ever imagines someone would judge her as not “getting it.”
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3