At the Republican National Convention Tuesday night, Mitt Romney will stand behind a human shield: his wife Ann Romney. And with good reason. While his campaign still frets about his massive "empathy gap," the Republican nominee will deploy his warm, engaging and sympathetic wife as a proxy for the compassion and emotional connection to voters he so obviously lacks.
That image of Mrs. Romney, long cultivated by her husband's campaign, has been faithfully reproduced by the media for months. Ann Romney, Politico gushed in April, "exudes empathy and authenticity and offers a window into her husband's character." Just this week, hagiographic profiles such as "Ann Romney Adds Fire, Faith To Husband's Campaign" and "Romney Campaign Counts on Ann" were added to months of fawning press accounts with titles like "Romney Using Wife's Story to Connect with Voters," "Ann Romney Adds Personal Touch to Mitt's Campaign" and "The Ann Romney Advantage." Simply put, her role Tuesday as "the Mittigator" is to "humanize" her husband.
But that's not the only role Ann Romney fulfills for her husband and his political campaign. Perhaps even more ambitious on Mitt's behalf than he is, Mrs. Romney has faithfully defended her man and fiercely attacked his opponent in pursuit of an office they seem to believe is rightly theirs. Ann is not only helping Mitt stonewall "small-minded" Americans over his mysterious finances now, in the past she actively helped him deceive voters about views on abortion. And that makes her less like June Cleaver and more like Lady Macbeth.
"Screw Your Courage to the Sticking Place, and We'll Not Fail
Mitt Romney was preparing to run for president of the United States even before he took the oath of office as governor of Massachusetts in 2003. But despite Mitt's perpetual campaign for the White House (one which in 2008 consumed $45 million of his own money), Romney family lore now states that Ann was the driving force behind his 2012 bid. As Chris Wallace of Fox News recently described the tale:
"The Romneys had a family meeting a couple of years ago about whether he should run again for president. It was the governor and Mrs. Romney, their five sons, and the five daughters-in-law. The vote was 10-2 against running," Mr. Wallace recalled. "The two in favor were Mrs. Romney and their oldest son, Tagg. She said, 'You've got to run. The country needs you, especially with the economy in such trouble.' She persuaded him to make another race for president."But voters could be forgiven for doubting Ann's recent suggestion that "we're running for those folks that are really worried about how they're going to have a paycheck." Because for over a decade, Mrs. Romney explained that for her husband, like Shakespeare's Scotsman, ultimate power was pre-ordained. As Irin Carmon documented in Salon:
"I truly want Mitt to fulfill his destiny, and for that to happen, he's got to do politics," Ann told the Los Angeles Times on the eve of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. In his book "Turnaround," Mitt says he initially resisted the offer to take over the games until Ann changed his mind. "There's no one else who can do it," he remembers her saying. Last year, when Mitt entered the presidential race, Ann told Parade, "I felt the country needed him ... This is now Mitt's time." In a March radio interview, Ann declared, "He's the only one who can save America."That theme, that only Mitt can save the nation from Duncan Obama, is a recurrent one for Ann Romney. As she told NBC's Natalie Morales two weeks ago:
"We have a reason why we're running and it's because I believe in my heart that Mitt is going to save America, that economically we are in such difficult times and that he is the person that's going to pull us through this."As she bluntly put it to Diane Sawyer in April, "It's our turn now."
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"Give Me the Daggers"
CEO-turned-candidate Mitt Romney likes to boast that his wife "reports to me regularly" about the concerns of American women. But as a look back over the past year shows, that's not all Ann Romney does on the campaign trail. When Mitt is "too full o' th' milk of human kindness," Lady Romney seems only too happy to do the dirty work.
That started long before she started telling Romney-Ryan crowds that "We're not gonna take it anymore! We're gonna take back the White House!" When Mitt was getting pummeled in debates during the Republican primaries, Ann simply announced in February there would be no more debates:
"Maybe I should just do all the talking and let him just stand here and watch me," she said. "I've also decided no more debates. If we're going to do another debate, he's going to sit in the audience and watch me. And that'll be it."For months, the Romney campaign has fired what New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte called its "secret bullet" at anyone wanting to see Mitt's tax returns. After her husband released tax returns showing that he paid a smaller share to Uncle Sam that most middle class families, Ann Romney deployed the same language about "how I measure riches is by the friends I have and the loved ones I have and the people I care about in my life" she used to explain life with MS:
"I understand Mitt's going to release his tax forms this week. I want to remind you where our riches are: our riches are with our families," Ann Romney said. "Our riches, you can value them, in the children we have and in the grandchildren we have. So that's where our values are and that's where our heart is -- and that's where we measure our wealth."
As Think Progress noted at the time, Mrs. Romney was none too happy about Mitt having to follow in the footsteps of every modern presidential candidate and release his tax returns:
At an event at Freedom Tower in Miami this afternoon, Ann Romney said "unfortunately" the world now knows how "successful in business" Romney has been.Now, she insists, "you people" have seen enough. As she recently protested to NBC's Morales:
"Have you seen how we're attacked?" Mrs. Romney said, leaning forward in her chair. "Have you seen what's happened? [...] We have been very transparent to what's legally required of us," she said. "But the more we release, the more we get attacked, the more we get questioned, the more we get pushed. And so we have done what's legally required, and there's going to be no more tax releases given."(It was more than a little ironic that the would-be first lady proclaimed "Mitt is honest" and "his integrity is just golden" when it comes to the matter of taxes. After all, when his Utah property taxes nearly doomed his chance to run for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, Mitt blamed her. "Romney said he didn't see the property tax bills for his $3.8 million home in Park City Utah," papers reported at the time," because the home was in his wife Ann's name and she paid the tax bills.")
But on Mitt's abortion position, Ann Romney was more than willing to answer voters' questions. Of course, that answer always depended on whether Mitt Romney (the man his own strategist Michael Murphy admitted in 2005 had been" a pro-life Mormon faking it as a pro-choice friendly") was running for office inside or outside of liberal Massachusetts.During his 2002 race for governor, Ann assured Bay State voters they need not worry about moderate Mitt protecting the right to choose:
ANN ROMNEY: I think women also recognize that they want someone who is going to manage the state well. I think they may be more nervous about him on social issues. They shouldn't be, because he's going to be just fine. But the perception is that he won't be. That's an incorrect perception.Five years later, Ann Romney announced that Mitt "has always personally been pro-life." She added that "he did change his mind. It took courage," and claimed, "hasn't changed his position on anything except choice." So much for her April claim that "we need to respect the choices that women make."
MITT ROMNEY: So when asked will I preserve and protect a woman's right to choose, I make an unequivocal answer: yes.
During the '94 Senate campaign when her husband declared that the death of a "dear, close family relative" from an illegal abortion inspired his "unwavering" pro-choice position, Ann Romney put her money where her Mitt's mouth was. That fall, Ann and Mitt attended a Planned Parenthood event. During a time when he was trying to establish his pro-choice bona fides with liberal Massachusetts voters, Ann wrote a check for $150 to the organization he now wants to defund. When presidential candidate Romney said in 2007 that he had "no recollection" of the fundraiser, then president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. Nichols Gamble seemed surprised:
"I can understand that he might not remember the check -- it's surprising to me that he would not remember the event. His main motivation for being there was a political motivation."For her part, Ann Romney gave away the game during a January 2008 interview in Florida (around the 3:10 mark). A clearly irked Mrs. Romney brushed off a question about the contribution to Planned Parenthood, before walking away:
"That was 14 years ago and $100. Do you really think I'd remember?"Regardless, Romney explained in May 2007, what his wife did—the same woman who with her entire family converted to her husband's Mormon faith—did not reflect on him. As the New York Times reported:
"Her positions are not terribly relevant for my campaign."Not terribly relevant, that is, until he was getting clobbered among women voters in the coming 2012 general election. Then she became the chief of the "Women for Mitt Coalition."
Ann Romney has come a long way since her talk about her weight and living off Mitt's investments put a dent in his 1994 campaign for the Senate. If her husband mocks people who wear polyester or plastic rain ponchos, she makes sure voters know he supposedly shops at Costco. She's also quick to claim that Barack Obama's whole campaign strategy boils down to "kill Romney." Now, as Time magazine warned in its glowing profile this week, "she also knows how to sting."
Or as Lady Macbeth counseled, "Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it."