Calling Romney 'Weird' Sounds Like Code for 'Mormon'
Obama campaign plans to say his 2012 challenger is not like the rest of us
If Mitt Romney wins the Republican nomination for 2012, President Obama will reportedly have two things to say about him: he's greedy and he's weird. The greed part is based on Romney's work at Bain Capital, which frequently bought struggling companies and laid off workers. The weird part is based on his bad fashion and bad jokes, Politico reports. But Megan Carpentier thinks maybe it's really about Romney being Mormon.
Carpentier notes that more than a third of Americans are "somewhat uncomfortable" or "entirely uncomfortable" with voting for Mormons, according to a Quinnipiac poll released in June. Further, Mormonism seems alien to many--the poll found just 25 percent think the religion is very or somewhat similar to their own. Politico's Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin report that Obama's campaign says it's not going after Romney's faith:
None of the Obama advisers interviewed made any suggestion that Romney's personal qualities would be connected to his minority Mormon faith, but the step from casting Romney as a bit off to raising questions about religion may not be a large step for some of the incumbent's supporters.
And instead, the Obama campaign is taking a page from George W. Bush's 2004 campaign against John Kerry, portraying his opponent as just generally disconnected from the way regular people live:
The character attacks on Romney will focus on what critics view as a makeover, both personal (skinny jeans) and political (abortion).Democrats also plan to amplify what Obama strategists described as the "weirdness" quotient, the sum of awkward public encounters and famous off-kilter anecdotes, first among them the tale of Romney having strapped his dog to the roof of his car.
Salon's Alex Pareene is skeptical of this strategy. Sure, strapping a dog to a car roof is weird, Pareene says.
But, you know, taking Mormonism off the table is actually taking the weirdest thing about Mitt Romney off the table. Because otherwise Mitt Romney is a standard-issue moderate-to-right wing Northeast Republican straight from central casting. Rich guy, scion, private sector experience, nice hair. ...Mormonism, though! That's weird, to a lot of people. And I'm trying not to be unfair to Mormons. If Catholicism was 100 years old, people would be like, "what the hell is this about?"
Pareene's Salon colleague Steve Kornacki says talking about Mormonism might not be a winner, though. He notes that in Romney's unsuccessful challenge to Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1994, the Kennedy campaign's first response was to have his nephew, Rep. Joe Kennedy, attack Romney's religion, calling it racist. (Black people couldn't join the clergy till 1978, but the younger Kennedy said he didn't know they were no longer banned.) It "backfired," Kornacki says, and Kennedy turned to attacking Romney for his work at Bain, which worked.
So Obama's team might have better political results leaning on the Romney-is-greedy prong of their attack. Also because some of those weird-but-not-anti-Mormon factoids Obama's campaign cites aren't entirely accurate. In response to the Politico story, Brookings fellow Elisabeth Jacobs tweeted, "Romney's wearing skinny jeans?!?" The answer (shown at left) appears to be no.
The report comes from a widely-cited Los Angeles Times article about Romney's wife giving him a makeover by taking him to Nascar events and getting him Gap skinny jeans. The mystery here: Who doesn't know what skinny jeans are? Ann Romney? The Los Angeles Times? Politico? These are important questions that must be answered.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.