It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. That is, according the U.S. media, July 2012 was an excellent opportunity for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to showcase his human side at his $8 million lakeside estate in New Hampshire. But when then-Sen. Barack Obama took time from the campaign in August 2008 to visit his ailing grandmother in his home state of Hawaii, the "optics" of "him going off to some sort of foreign, exotic place" were terrible.
Two weeks ago, Mitt's wife Ann told reporters that as First Couple, she doubted the Romneys would vacation abroad as much as Michelle Obama and her kids. "Our vacations and our happiness come from being with our children and our grandchildren," Mrs. Romney pointed out, adding that she and her husband "own places for that."
Make that three places. In addition to their Boston area town house, the Romney also have their new $12 million beach front home in La Jolla, California and an $8 million mansion on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire.
And that, CNN and Newsweek media critic Howard Kurtz tweets, makes Mitt Romney someone Americans can relate to:
Romney vacation pix important not just because he's relaxing with family, but enable people to imagine him as president.Kurtz has plenty of company. While Politico dutifully reproduced the photo scrapbook (to which The Atlantic added some editorial context) of Mitt, his five sons and 18 grandchildren, the Associated Press helpfully pointed out that "There's more to the political side of Romney's vacation than just the highly anticipated vice presidential pick."
While the candidate and his family haven't encouraged media coverage of their ice cream outings and sports event, they also haven't shied away from it.Of course, when Barack Obama returned home to Hawaii four years ago for a campaign break and to visit his grandmother, the press had another reaction.
That's ensured that Americans who are largely unfamiliar with the former Massachusetts governor see glossy images of the large Romney clan playing on and around sun-splashed Lake Winnipesaukee -- and the usually buttoned-up patriarch clearly at ease. He's been seen -- and photographed -- riding on a jet ski, playing volleyball, relaxing on the beach and eating an ice cream cone at Bailey's Bubble while surrounded by more than a dozen of his 18 grandchildren.
The vacation has painted a family portrait of the Romneys that's led at least one pundit to compare them to the Kennedy clan, the American political dynasty that gathered during summers in Hyannis Port, Mass. Their athletic, photogenic family helped label President John F. Kennedy's era as "Camelot." The vacation images have also given Romney, who's fought a perception that he can't connect with ordinary voters, a chance to show an authentic lighter side.
As you may recall, Team McCain and the RNC issued reporters a mock "Barack Obama's Hawaii Travel Guide," which lambasted Obama for attending the Punahou School from 1971 to 1979. Despite the fact that Obama, who was raised by a single mother and attended the school on scholarship, the McCain campaign depicted him as the child of privilege. As Politico reported:
"No one means to demean the academic successes of Barack Obama or the schools he attended," said McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds. "The RNC and this campaign have sought to simply point out that on his Hawaii travels, there are certain landmarks reporters will likely see and this was a way to put those on the map."John McCain was aided and abetted by the likes of ABC This Week regular Cokie Roberts, who made sure the GOP talking points made it to Americans' TV screens:
"I know his grandmother lives in Hawaii and I know Hawaii is a state, but it has the look of him going off to some sort of foreign, exotic place. He should be at Myrtle Beach and if he's going to take a vacation at this time. I just think this is not the time to do that."She repeated that meme the next day, telling NPR that Barack Obama's time off in Hawaii "makes him seem a little bit more exotic" in a state which was "a somewhat odd place to be doing it."
Following the media's "windsurfing" of John Kerry in 2004, even some Obama sympathizers got nervous about his trip to a state of 1.3 million people that attracts five million Americans each year. As the Daily Beast recorded on August 11, 2008:
[E]ven the New Republic's Michael Crowley chimed in. "If Obama's being smeared as a highfalutin celebrity who is somehow 'other' and distant from the American heartland, is Hawaii really the ideal vacation destination?" he wrote. "It sounds trivial but such things can resonate."As it turned out, that drumbeat continued well into Obama's presidency. When the president went back to Hawaii for Christmas vacation in 2009, the criticism started all over again. As frequent CNN contributor and former Romney aide Kevin Madden put it:
"You have to also remember the fact that the president being on vacation in Hawaii, it's much different than being in Texas. Hawaii to many Americans seems like a foreign place. And I think those images, the optics, hurt President Obama very badly."Apparently, you really can't go home again, at least not if you're a Democrat. As for Mitt "Home Sweet Homes" Romney, it's just a matter of which one.