Mitt Romney was losing the so-called “war on women.” Badly. Until Democratic operative Hilary Rosen appeared on CNN Wednesday night and seemingly derided his wife’s decision to stay at home and raise the couple’s five boys.
“His wife has actually never worked a day in her life,” Rosen told Anderson Cooper. “She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school and how do we — why we worry about their future.”
Sensing opportunity, the Romney campaign quickly set up a Twitter feed for Ann Romney from which she tweeted:
I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work.— Ann Romney (@AnnDRomney) April 12, 2012
Sensing danger, Jim Messina, Stephanie Cutter and David Axelrod — three of the top operatives for President Obama’s reelection campaign — tweeted out condemnations.
I could not disagree with Hilary Rosen any more strongly. Her comments were wrong and family should be off limits. She should apologize.— Jim Messina (@Messina2012) April 12, 2012
Rosen didn’t seem to get the message that the Obama campaign was sending (or tweeting) her, however. She seemed to double down on her comments in a back and forth Twitter exchange with Ann Romney.“I am raising children too,” Rosen tweeted. “But most young American women HAVE to BOTH earn a living AND raise children. You know that don’t u?”
She then penned a piece for the Huffington Post in which she wrote in part: “Spare me the faux anger from the right who view the issue of women’s rights and advancement as a way to score political points.”
Before we go any further, it’s important to note a few things. First, Rosen’s official connection to the Democratic National Committee or the Obama reelection effort is tenuous — at best — making Republican attempts to make her some sort of official spokeswoman a stretch. Second, one comment made by a Democratic strategist in mid-April is not likely to turn the election in any major way. Third, what Rosen said doesn’t erase Romney’s pledge to defund Planned Parenthood or the focus on contraception in the GOP primary over the past two months.
But, politics is about opportunity and momentum. And what Rosen said gives Romney some of both. Here’s three ways it can affect the race in the near term:
1. Defense to offense: As recently as yesterday, Romney was scuffling to find ways to push back on the growing “war against women” meme. (And, yes, we just used the word “meme”.) Romney’s biggest problem was that he was constantly playing defense on the issue. Arguing why you aren’t conducting a “war on women” is not a recipe for political success. What Rosen’s comments do is put Romney on the offensive on the issue. Ann Romney’s appearance on Fox News Channel this morning and a conference call with several of Romney’s female surrogates — New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte among them — is evidence of the Romney team taking the fight to Obama.
2. Sympathetic figure: Romney has not, in the race to date, come across a terrible sympathetic (or empathetic) figure. Wealthy businessman whose father was the governor of a state? Not exactly sympathetic. But, the Rosen comments do something that Romney himself has been unable to do: make him (and his family) someone who people — and, specifically, women — might feel some sort of kinship with.
3. Romney campaign shines: The Romney campaign’s quick reaction to Rosen’s comments — Ann Romney Twitter feed, Fox News hit, conference call — speak to an operation that is ready for the minute-by-minute battle that is modern presidential campaigning. Most voters don’t care how the sausage is made but for the political insider crowd who spectates campaigns the way most people watch sports, Romney’s operation will win a measure of respect for their handling of the slipup by Rosen.
Viewed broadly, it’s important not to view this episode too broadly. Politics is littered with misstatements by people closer to campaigns than Rosen that wind up being blown way out of proportion in the moment and not mattering in the least to voters. ( “Lipstick on a pig”, anyone?)
But, that doesn’t mean that Rosen’s comments don’t hand Romney an opportunity to push back on the “war against women” narrative that was clearly starting to take hold. It’s a lifeline for Romney and one he seems to have already effectively seized.