Outsourcing the job to his wife isn’t going to solve Mitt Romney’s problem with women voters.
That, though, does seem to be the candidate’s first instinct. Romney, when asked last week about the gender gap, twice said he wished his wife could take the question.
“My wife has the occasion, as you know, to campaign on her own and also with me,” Romney told newspaper editors, “and she reports to me regularly that the issue women care about most is the economy.”
Note to candidate: Women aren’t a foreign country. You don’t need an interpreter to talk to them. Even if you’re not fluent in their language, they might appreciate if you gave it a try.
As if to emphasize their candidate’s unfamiliarity with the territory of gender, the Romney campaign then released a fuzzy-wuzzy video, titled “Family” and starring, of course, Ann Romney, reminiscing over grainy film and vintage snapshots.
“I hate to say it but often I had more than five sons,” Ann recalls. “I had six sons, and he would be as mischievous and as naughty as the other boys. He’d come home and” — here Romney makes the sound of a building blowing up — “everything would just explode again.”
Somehow I doubt that Ann Romney, circa 1982, having finally managed to get her five boys under control, was all that happy about their father coming home only to “get them all riled up again.” Somehow I doubt that beleaguered moms, circa 2012, listen to her story and think, “Oh, Mitt is so much more fun than I thought.” Rather, I suspect, they wonder whether he should have been doing more to lend a hand.
Indeed, the video offers an unintentional glimpse of Ann’s own frustrations. “It was hard to maneuver,” Ann notes. “I could do okay when I had the two. Three, not so bad. Four, it got to be a little much.” On the campaign trail with her husband, Ann often talks about the old days when she would be at home dealing with her rambunctious brood and Mitt would call from the road. “His consoling words were always the same: Ann, your job is more important than mine.”
This story is supposed to buttress Mitt’s bona fides as a supportive husband, and Ann is, no doubt, a more tolerant spouse than I am. But every time I hear that patronizing line, I imagine responding, “Great. If my job is more important, then you come home and do it and I’ll check into the nice room at the Four Seasons.”
Romney’s biggest problem with women voters is among those with college educations and among those under 45. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll, for example, showed President Obama leading Romney by 57 percent to 38 percent among registered women voters, while Obama lagged with men, 44 percent to Romney’s 52 percent.
However, the gender gap was markedly bigger among college-educated women, 65 percent of whom supported Obama, compared to 52 percent of those without a college education. Same with age, with 63 percent of female voters 18 to 44 backing Obama, compared to 54 percent of those 45 and older.
How many of these younger and/or better-educated women are going to identify with Ann Romney’s father-knows-best description of life in chez Romney? I understand that the candidate badly needs humanizing but, especially for general-election purposes, it would be more powerful to combine the family story with examples, assuming they exist, about Workplace Mitt promoting women or adopting family-friendly policies.
Even as Mitt was playing a bit role in his wife’s video, Obama was hosting a “White House Forum on Women and the Economy.” In an unstated yet unavoidable contrast with stay-at-home mother Ann Romney, Obama described his wife as “the woman who once advised me at the law firm in Chicago where we met” and related how Michelle Obama, after their daughters were born, “gave it her all to balance raising a family and pursuing a career.”
Obama and Romney come from different backgrounds and generations, and their experience of gender roles is inevitably different as well; if Obama connects better with younger, working women, that’s no surprise. And Romney is not alone in performing poorly with women voters. The GOP has suffered from a gender gap in every presidential election since 1980.
So Romney can lose the women’s vote and still win, but not if the gap remains this big. Narrowing it will be, in this case, a man’s job.