the circus

Frank Rich on the National Circus: Why Ann Romney Beats George Clooney

MANCHESTER, NH - APRIL 24: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, his wife Ann Romney (R), his son Tagg Romney and some of his grandchildren wave to supporters during a campaign rally titled
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/2012 Getty Images

Some had cautioned that Mitt Romney might not win 50 percent in some of last night’s primaries, or might even lose Delaware (where the Christine O’Donnell–Wicca wing of the GOP was said to support Gingrich). Instead, he won easily in every state. Are conservatives rallying around Mitt? Or should he be worried that he is still whiffing with 40 percent of his electorate?
He certainly hasn’t won over Gingrich or Santorum. Newt had promised he’d get out if he didn’t win Delaware, but even after getting only 27 percent in the Witchcraft State, he is still taking his sweet time exiting the stage. Santorum went on Piers Morgan and started stammering when asked to flat-out endorse his party’s presumptive nominee. And where in the world is Ron Paul? He seems to have gone into the witness-protection program.

But Romney gave a confident victory speech last night, hailed even by conservative Romney skeptics as being so “strong, accessible and positive” (in the words of John Podhoretz) that Obama should be scared.
A lot of Kool-Aid is being drunk on the right to make the Mitt medicine go down. The speech was more humanlike than usual, but that’s setting the bar quite low. He still seems the best Audio-Animatronic politician that money can buy. The positive part of the speech, I assume, was Romney’s promise to bring relief to a nation that he characterizes as being nearly at death’s door. Not exactly Morning in America. And his attempts to empathize with the downtrodden (including a shout-out to working moms taking on second jobs) never sounded more scripted. Even the aristocratic Bush 41’s hapless “Message: I care” had more conviction than Mitt’s stab at “I feel your pain” karaoke. The biggest takeaway from the speech for channel surfers was the chanting of a virtually all-white Amen chorus crying out a repeated rhetorical “No!” to ratify a lengthy Mitt litany of negatives about the country and Obama. The Party of No is nothing if not consistent in its messaging.

Politico ran a story yesterday saying that Romney wanted to “rock the youth vote.” Is that just crazy talk? What’s he thinking here?
Paging Ted Nugent! Clearly that demographic has inched its way onto Mitt’s radar screen. In one of several Etch A Sketch moments so far this week, he abruptly decided to side against the congressional GOP by endorsing an extension of low student-loan interest rates. Too little, too late, and too disingenuous to fool anyone, least of all the youth. Meanwhile, Obama was taking a swing-state campus tour pounding on Republican intransigence on the loan issue, with a stop at a dive bar in Boulder. Obama is also on the new cover of Rolling Stone and went instantly viral after “slow-jamming” the news with Jimmy Fallon late Tuesday night — perfect counterprogramming to Mitt’s buttoned-up victory oration. The size of youth turnout in November remains a mystery, but it’s no mystery who is going to get most of that vote.

Obama is raffling off a dinner with him and George Clooney. Romney is raffling off a dinner with his wife. What do those choices say about both campaigns? And which is a smarter play?
Score one for Romney. It’s hard to make Romney look like the populist in the race but that juxtaposition of dining partners does.

Romney got a taste of efforts to try to rock the anti-Mormon vote when Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer reminded voters that Romney’s father grew up in a polygamist community in Mexico, then reminded women that women don’t like polygamy. Is this just the beginning of a Democratic effort to play the Mormon card?
Probably not. It was a dumb move by Schweitzer and it would be dumb of Democrats to replicate it. That said, Romney’s history as a lay church official — and his handling of its official policies toward women, blacks, and gays in the LDS church and beyond it — is an entirely legitimate issue in evaluating his presidential bonafides. That record will sooner or later be reported out by the press despite the Romney campaign’s efforts to brand any such attempts as “bigotry.”

The Mormon church was the biggest instigator of anti-gay-rights fund-raising in the battle over Prop 8 in California. Romney sought and won the endorsement of the National Organization for Marriage, the group that took ads likening same-sex marriage to a horror-movie apocalypse. But last week his campaign named an open and politically active gay man, Richard Grenell, as foreign-policy spokesman. What gives?
Let’s just say the appointment is something of a mixed message. Hardly had Grenell joined Team Mitt than Michael Calderone of Huffington Post outed him as misogynist. It turned out Grenell had been conducting his own personal war on women through Twitter wisecracks (now scrubbed from his account), mocking the looks, wardrobe choices, character, and hair of Hillary Clinton, Rachel Maddow, and especially Callista Gingrich. At least he was bipartisan in his nastiness.

John Boehner said there’s a one-in-three chance the GOP loses the House. Was he just being candid? Or was it a calculated statement?
The Real Clear Politics poll aggregate gives Congress an approval rating of 14 percent. If 86 percent of the public, or anything like that, is inclined to throw the bums out, there are more Republican incumbents to throw out than Democrats.

John Edwards, once within a hair’s breadth of the vice-presidency, is on trial for corruption. Have you ever seen a more spectacular political fall? And is his plight now purely a political sideshow?
I am not one to cite my occasionally correct calls as a journalist, but I am proud to say that the very first time I met Edwards he struck me as a snake-oil salesman — albeit one with an impressive spouse — and I never wrote a column at any point in his national career devoted to him or his “Two Americas” pitch, which many liberal friends and colleagues took for the real thing. So for me, he never had far to fall: He’s no tragic figure out of Shakespeare but a character arc worthy of the hapless final season of Desperate Housewives. But if Edwards is, and perhaps always was, a political sideshow, the big helpings of sex and betrayal in his sordid tale can still keep the tabloids and cable-news networks aflutter while waiting for the next Balloon Boy.

Saturday brings the White House correspondents’ dinner. Lindsay Lohan is a guest of Greta Van Susteren. Does her presence at the event saying anything about it that we didn’t already know?
Sadly, no. But at least the Van Susteren–Lohan pairing could make for good casting if anyone in Hollywood is tempted to make a camp sequel of an early Lohan hit —   i.e., Freaky Saturday. Otherwise, it’s up to Jimmy Kimmel and Obama to approximate the Fallon–Obama magic to save this yearly exercise in Beltway narcissism and star worship from itself.

Frank Rich: Why Ann Romney Beats George Clooney