Though he enters this week’s Republican National Convention with a decent chance at winning the presidency, Mitt Romney has made some blunders along the way–the most serious of which may be his campaign’s failure thus far to highlight the charm and personality of his wife, Ann. Today’s joint interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday showed Americans what we have been missing–and what an opportunity has been missed.
The Romneys are a heartwarming couple, comfortable with themselves and what they have accomplished together, eager to share the hospitality of their home with family and friends. Amidst all the talk of grocery shopping at Costco and setting chores for the kids, what emerges in the Fox interview is a genuine chemistry, an interplay between two different but complimentary individuals who care very deeply for each other.
The contrast to Barack and Michelle Obama is subtle but perhaps crucial. The Obamas have often seemed to exude an undercurrent of resentment in interviews with, and about, each other. They share common political commitments, but Michelle Obama has also been openly skeptical of her husband’s ambitions, especially after his congressional defeat in 2000, and even when he was first discussed as a presidential candidate in 2004.
The Romneys tease each other, but do so in ways that seem to boost one another–Ann jokes about Mitt ironing his own shirt, for instance. By contrast, Barack once warned the nation: “You do not want to be between Michelle and a tamale.” He may merely have been returning the favor, after his wife told Glamour in 2007 that Barack was so “snore-y and stinky” in the mornings that his daughters refused to play with him.
All this is not to deny that the Obamas are an exemplary, passionate couple. But they have often lived beyond their means, of doing deals with shady characters such as convicted fraudster Tony Rezko, and of surrounding themselves with radicals like Jeremiah Wright and Rashid Khalidi. Time and again, Barack gambled his career–and marriage–on big political risks. A brief run of good luck seems to have kept everything afloat.
Perhaps they are simply older, more mature, or more privileged, but the Romneys seem somehow more at ease with both good times and bad. Mitt cared for his wife when she faced life-threatening illness; Ann stuck by her husband through several costly political losses. They are grandparents–youthful ones, who ride horses and surf and make pancakes for the children. Through Ann, Mitt Romney comes across as a man in full. While President Obama has penned two memoirs and grown some grey, he still seems a work in progress.
There was one near-stumble in the Romneys’ Fox interview, when Ann said: “We are not running to make your lives easier.” I was startled that she would say something so tone-deaf–something reminiscent of Michelle Obama’s condescending, statist warning on the campaign trail in 2008 that her husband “will require you to work.” So I watched her segment again–and it is clear, in full context, that she was making a point about compassion for the poor and the middle class.
Wallace had asked her how she helped her husband overcome the impression that he is “out of touch”–presumably, because of his wealth. Ann replied that Mitt was running to help people who are struggling–not the wealthy:
Whenever I…talk to..especially fundraising groups, I’ll look out and see everyone’s looking like they are doing pretty well here. I’m like, ‘Guess what, guys. We are not running for you. We’re running for those folks who are really worried about how they’re gonna have a paycheck, or they’re really worried about how they’re going to be able to afford to educate their children. That’s what we’re running for. We’re not running to make your lives [i.e. the wealthy] easier.
The Romneys don’t want to “make you work,” but to make it easier for others to find work. That is a profound–perhaps decisive–difference.
If, as some pundits note, running mate Paul Ryan brings out the energy in Mitt Romney, Ann Romney brings out some of his “likability”–that elusive quality that has buoyed Barack Obama in polls despite the unpopularity of his policies. The campaign had originally scheduled her for an obscure Monday speaking slot. What were they thinking?