In 2008, the over-the-top rhetoric from journalists concerning then-candidate Barack Obama was a source of frustration and even humor for former Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain supporters. Who can forget the famous a "thrill goes up my leg" reference by one journalist ? Of course, as President Obama quickly found out, the shelf life of gushing praise can be measured in weeks, days, or even hours after winning an election.
Nevertheless, on some occasions a reporter does an interview that can be fairly said to show a different and more compelling side to a candidate. Such was the interview done last week by CNN's Wolf Blitzer with Mitt and Ann Romney. Many commentators have catalogued former Gov. Mitt Romney's challenges in establishing genuine connection with voters. Because of these challenges, the Romney's co-interview was almost transformative. Succinctly, the Romney's together make Mitt believable.
We can cite poll numbers or interview individual female voters, but the bottom line is that most women think Mitt Romney is too good to be true. Despite his clear accomplishments, he comes off as "that guy" we should not have trusted. When Ann and Mitt take the stage together, the delta is profound. Instead of translating as the slick salesman we wished we'd never listened to, Mitt Romney becomes the one good man.
Here's why: The Romney's raised five boys, we raised four. When Ann Romney describes her exhausted conversations with Mitt after spending a day corralling her rambunctious and misbehaving sons, was there a mother who didn't wish he'd been on the other end of that phone? Trust me, when you have scuff marks on your ceiling caused by indoor dodgeball, football, and even hockey, a spouse telling you your job is more important than his is a giant among men.
Ann Romney said that whether he was governing in Massachusetts, working in private industry or leading the Olympics in Salt Lake City, Mitt Romney regarded her job raising five sons as more significant, telling her, "My job is temporary and your job is going to bring permanent happiness." The overarching value in the Romney home, she said, was that "no other success can compensate for failure in the home."
Even when discounting the statements for the inevitable polishing they get from professional communicators/consultants, the Romney's depiction of their marriage rings true. As Democratic strategist Maria Cardona said the night of the CNN interview, they seem "sincere." The Romney sons describe their parents' marriage as a partnership. At a recent event, Josh Romney introduced his mother as the person his father trusts the most and said that "everything [his father] has accomplished is because of Mom." As he put it, "They make a great team."
One of the most emotional aspects of the CNN interview concerned the Romneys' description of the day Ann was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Husband and wife both teared up, and Ann Romney kept watching her husband's face, as if gaining strength from his presence. Anyone who has walked the frightening path of serious illness with a loved one knows you never forget the moment that diagnosis changes your world changes. This aspect of the interview was in glaring contrast to the stories, since disputed by Newt Gingrich and his daughter, of the former speaker serving his cancer-stricken wife with divorce papers. Even if that story is more urban legend than truth, the comparison is painfully unavoidable.
Political experts know that spouses of candidates are more likely to hurt than help. In that way, they are eerily similar to vice presidential candidates. For Mitt Romney, his wife is an unqualified asset. His devotion and deference to Ann speaks volumes. To the extent his campaign is listening, get her out there. Please.