Romney = Gore
August 8, 2012 Leave a comment
Nice piece from Brendan Nyhan on how the press’ treatment of Romney is really coming to resemble their treatment of Gore in 2000. In an election that looks to be quite close (though hopefully not quite as 2000), this is not good news for Romney. Long exceprt, but too good to cut short:
By early 2011, it wasapparent that many reporters viewed Romney as inauthentic and were selecting anecdotes to report that were consistent with this narrative. Coverage during the GOP primaries and the ensuing months was oftensimilarlyhostile. Fearful of the media focusing on the mistakes of its error-prone candidate, the campaign has locked down Romney so tightly that the traveling press were only granted a total of three questions during the seven-day foreign trip (though Romney did conduct substantive interviews with broadcast and cable networks).
As I’ve notedbefore, the best comparison for the Romney/media dynamic is the way the press covered Al Gore in the 1999-2000 period. Like Romney, Gore was portrayed as inauthentic by a hostile press corps (which even jeered him at a debate) and burned by “gotcha” coverage during his primary campaign with Bill Bradley. As a result, the Vice President became very cautious and restricted media access later in the primary season. The cycle of hostility and access restrictions continued during the general election, helping to produce some of the worstpoliticaljournalism in recent memory.
The media’s focus on authenticity and gaffes is helping to fuel a similar dynamic with Romney today. Of course, reporters have every right to be frustrated with the lack of access they are being given to the candidate. But journalists and news organizations are responsible for how they respond to this situation—which has no obvious solution—and should be careful to avoid letting their grievances fuel pathological coverage. The most dramatic example from Romney’s trip overseas was The Washington Post’s Phil Ruckerdesperately shouting “What about your gaffes?” at Romney, a question that Salon’s Alex Pareene called “maybe the dumbest question I’ve heard” and “a perfect beautiful little 2012 campaign zen koan.”
Beyond the frustration and resentment, an underlying problem is that the demand for gaffe news far exceeds the public’s interest in substantive reporting, especially during a general election in which only 5% of adults are truly undecided. The average news consumer follows presidential politics more like a sports fan than some sort of ideal citizen. Though there’s little evidence that gaffes prompt voters to rethink their loyalties, Romney’s missteps seem like news in this context.
On a related note, Nate Cohn suggests that Romney could use a “Sister Souljah” moment. I think he’s right and that this might really help with the tone of his coverage. However, I don’t think there’s anything in Romney’s character to suggest he’ll deliver such a moment. Cohn:
Most presidential candidates adopt an image that distinguishes them from the most partisan wing of their party, whether it was Bush running as a “compassionate conservative,” Clinton’s “New Democrat,” Obama’s post-partisan appeals to change, or McCain’s “maverick.” And realistically, Romney needs it as much or more than any of those prior candidates. The Republican Party is decidedly unpopular—more unpopular than the parties were in any of those prior presidential elections (with the exception of McCain in 2008). Yet here’s Romney, a candidate who entered presidential politics positioned to run as a moderate, running as a generic conservative Republican candidate with a splash of Bain Capital.
It’s important to remember that Romney needs moderate, independent, and even traditionally Democratic-leaning voters to win this election. It’s not 2004 anymore: The influx of non-white voters into the electorate over the last eight years, as well as their movement toward the Democratic party, has raised the bar for what Romney needs among white voters. Romney
Honestly, I think Romney is just too scared of the response fro that “most partisan wing” of his party.