Monday, January 21, 2008 9:00 AM
By: Ronald Kessler
Mitt Romney’s wins in Michigan and Nevada not only re-ignited his presidential prospects, they have spotlighted his new image.
Voters and political observers have long complained that while Romney may have everything it takes to be president, he comes across as a technocrat rather than an ordinary guy. Many have described him as cold, plastic, or just too perfect. Tonya Reiman, Bill O’Reilly’s body language expert, has told me the candidate’s body language seems to suggest he is not fully committed.
Knowing him as a warm, good-hearted family man, Romney’s aides and family members have been listening to the critical reviews and trying to get him to loosen up. Months ago, his son Tagg, who is working on the campaign, suggested that his father drop the white shirt and tie and instead wear a sport shirt or sweater. For campaign appearances in Michigan and Nevada, Romney did just that.
To me, the problem was not so much his attire — Ronald Reagan conveyed warmth even when dressed in a dark suit — but his manner. Romney may have thought it was pandering to show too much emotion. But as Romney’s victory speech in Michigan demonstrated, he has taken the comments and advice to heart.
Unlike Barack Obama in New Hampshire, Romney did not read his speech from a teleprompter. While he wore a white shirt and tie, he had removed his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. As Fred Barnes commented on Fox News, Romney even seemed to be perspiring. More important, Romney spoke with passion and came across as a caring person.
In an interview with Sean Hannity from South Carolina, Romney wore a sport shirt and sport jacket. Greeting voters in Nevada on caucus day, he also was dressed casually. In Jacksonville, Fla, he was wearing a buttoned-down white sport shirt with sleeves rolled up.
Asked by Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show" how he was holding up, Romney said just fine and described his typical day. It begins with a bowl of granola custom-mixed by his wife Ann.
“Before I go on a trip, she gets out the oats and honey and sesame seeds and chops up the almonds,” he told Leno. To laughs, he continued, “So I take a bowl and have granola in the morning, and then I jog every other day three miles, and then at the end of the day, just to really relax, I take off a dark suit like this and put on a light one.”
The Romney makeover may be just what the doctor ordered to convince skeptical voters that he is a leader they can trust. But should image matter? As in considering a candidate for any job, what should count is character and track record. Yet that is the last thing the media are interested in writing about.
While playing up the theology of Romney’s religion, the media have downplayed his record of success. Few stories mention that he is both a Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School graduate. Romney started Bain Capital, a venture capital firm, from almost nothing in 1984; it now has assets of $40 billion.
Romney worked similar miracles when he took over the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, turning a $397 million budget shortfall into a $56 million profit. As Massachusetts governor, he turned a $3 billion deficit into a surplus without raising taxes. Along the way, Romney developed a health insurance plan designed to cover all Massachusetts residents. It’s now being copied by other states.
What is most telling about Romney is that, when he was told in July 1996 that the 14-year-old daughter of one of his partners had been missing in New York for three days, Romney closed down Bain Capital and asked its 30 partners and employees to fly to New York to try to find her. The girl had gone to a rave party and taken ecstasy.
“I don’t care how long it takes; we’re going to find her,” Romney told the girl’s father Robert Gay. As a result of a massive campaign orchestrated by Romney, he was able to locate and rescue the girl when she was within a day of dying from the effects of an overdose.
In contrast to what that episode tells you about Romney’s character, John McCain has an out-of-control temper and displays nastiness with critics.
Defending his bill to give amnesty to illegal aliens, McCain unleashed a tirade on Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who had voiced concerns about the number of judicial appeals illegal immigrants could file under the proposed legislation.
“F*** you!” McCain said to his fellow senator. “I know more about this than anybody else in the room!” McCain shouted.
“He [McCain] would disagree about something and then explode,” said former Sen. Bob Smith, a fellow Republican who served with McCain on various committees. “[There were] incidents of irrational behavior. We’ve all had incidents where we have gotten angry, but I’ve never seen anyone act like that.”
Is that someone whose finger we want on the nuclear trigger?
While the media largely ignore the character and track records of McCain and Romney in favor of atmospherics, they play up McCain and look for ways to put down Romney. As a former McCain aide told me, that’s because McCain gives the media total access and is as liberal as a Democrat on many key issues, while Romney is a traditional Republican.
AP reporter Glen Johnson’s unprofessional jab at Romney is illustrative. After Romney said in answer to another reporter’s question, “I don’t have lobbyists running my campaign. I don’t have lobbyists that are tied to my . . .” Johnson cut him off.
“That’s not true, governor. That is not true. Ron Kaufman is a lobbyist,” Johnson said.
“Did you hear what I said? Did you hear what I said, Glen?” Romney responded. “I said I don’t have lobbyists running my campaign, and he’s not running my campaign.”
Kaufman is an adviser, Romney said. “And the person who runs my campaign is Beth Myers, and I have a whole staff of deputy campaign managers.”
In contrast, Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, is a registered lobbyist. But Johnson wrote an argumentative story pointing out that Romney has lobbyists as advisers. For good measure, Johnson added a final dig at Romney: “It is because of his lack of Washington experience . . . that he surrounds himself with some of the capital city’s prominent Republican voices.” Following Johnson’s logic, that would mean McCain has a lobbyist as his campaign manager because of his inexperience in Washington.
Either way, when it comes to the media, Romney can’t win. Romney now has more delegates and more wins than any other GOP candidate, but after his victory in Nevada, the headline over the lead article in The New York Times said, “McCain and Clinton Capture Tough Wins.”
When it comes to coverage of Democrats, it’s an entirely different story. As outlined in a Sept. 26, 2007 Newsmax article, “Hillary’s Nose Is Growing,” Hillary Clinton has no shame about fabricating stories and misstating her own record, yet the media give her a pass.
More shocking, the media have virtually ignored Barack Obama’s connection with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., his minister, friend, and sounding board for more than two decades, and the fact that Wright’s church magazine gave an award to Louis Farrakhan last month.
In an interview with Trumpet, the church magazine, about the award, Wright described Farrakhan — perhaps the country’s biggest anti-Semite — as a man who “truly epitomize[s] greatness.”
Wright himself has equated Zionism with racism and has compared Israel with South Africa under its previous policy of apartheid. On the Sunday following 9/11, Wright characterized the terrorist attacks as a consequence of violent American policies. Four years later, Wright suggested that the attacks were retribution for America’s racism.
Asked why the media have largely ignored Wright’s connection to Obama and the award he gave to Farrakhan, first reported in a Jan. 14 Newsmax article, a network news reporter told me, “The media love Obama.” She added, “If you want to do a critical story about him or a positive story about the Bush administration, you are considered by the network to be biased.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.