Romney campaign looks for any port in a storm | Bleader

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Romney campaign looks for any port in a storm

Posted By on 10.31.12 at 12:47 PM

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Mitt Romney, in drier times
If I were Mitt Romney I'd be wicked pissed right now. ("Gosh!" I'd probably say. "Shoot!") The election is only a few days away and the Republican presidential candidate is in an unfortunate position: to campaign as though the east coast didn't have more pressing concerns he'd be criticized as insensitive or maybe, in a more optimistic assessment, irrelevant—but in the meantime, there's really nothing doing. Romney returns to the trail today after a couple days' downtime, with a last-minute blitz planned to start on Friday, though you can't imagine it drawing a lot of attention. Romney's not the president; unlike Barack Obama, he doesn't have an actual job to do if he's not trying to convince people to vote for him, and especially not a job where he can be seen having a direct, salutary effect on hurricane relief efforts.

Not for lack of trying. A scheduled rally last night turned at the last minute into a "storm relief event" that sounded, per Buzzfeed, a little awkward. The plan was to ask attendees for canned and dry goods donations, which Romney would get photographed loading into the back of a rented truck, to be sent off east. The campaign worried they'd come up short, though, and McCay Coppins reports that "the night before the event, campaign aides went to a local Wal Mart and spent $5,000 on granola bars, canned food, and diapers to put on display while they waited for donations to come in."

The donations came. The plan also called for Romney to ditch his usual speech in favor of "brief, optimistic remarks on the spirit of volunteerism," a distinctly un-Ayn Randian principle, embedded as it is with the altruistic ideal. Forget how that played in Peoria—how did it play with Paul Ryan? Anyway, the kind of charity the Ohio event emphasized is considered pretty ineffective, though the prioritization of symbolism over cash was more to the point here. As Matthew Iglesias writes today in Slate, "In-kind donations to charitable organizations are extraordinarily inefficient. Well-managed charities are experts in identifying client need and the purchase and distribution of goods that meet those needs and often have access to deep discounts. Paying retail prices for random stuff, then handing it over in a logistically haphazard manner is crazy." Indeed: the Red Cross doesn't even accept goods of the kind Romney was collecting.

FEMA discourages them too, not that that mattered to the Republican campaign. Romney was asked, according to the Washington Post, "nearly half a dozen times whether he would eliminate FEMA as president; each time, Romney ignored the question."

The candidate was able to have his picture taken, Campbell's soup in the foreground, which I suppose is what the campaign thinks matters. To my mind, it can't be good for Romney to be seen like this. With pictures of the storm-damaged east coast dominating the week's news, what can look more impotent than a guy standing in an Ohio gymnasium grinning at somebody over a bunch of Gatorade? What must be frustrating for Romney is that there's no alternative. Barack Obama's kept a low profile through the storm, leaving the electorate to think of him as an adroit administrator—and making a point about the role of government largesse without having to say a thing—while he lets others boast about his accomplishments.

Romney's sending cans of soup that nobody wants, and even if that's more an aesthetic than an altruistic gesture, it's still a failure of aesthetics. The Romney/Ryan campaign is losing the battle of images simply because it hasn't figured out how to be, or at least look—how to put this without sounding like a total douchebag?—hip. On the Awl yesterday, Ana Marie Cox and Jason Linkins offered commentary on the two campaigns' Flickr feeds, between which the difference was shocking. Here we have, for instance, an awkward series of grainy shots of Romney and a young woman posing for a stiff picture together before sitting down in a couple of 1970s-era stuffed chairs to . . . watch TV together? These are the sorts of pictures that, if you were seeing yourself in them, you'd cringe. You cringe anyway, because they're terrible. Even the pictures that are in focus look like somebody's applied the current zombie-mashup craze to some Norman Rockwell paintings.

Cox and Linkins juxtapose them with selections from the Obama feed—an artful shot of the Mars Cheese Castle sign, for instance, presumably from Joe Biden's recent stop there. It doesn't say anything about the campaign but makes a nice, inconsequential statement about its volunteers, who seem, as the commentators point out, enthusiastic rather than desperate. The Obama photo people even make a decent effort at that cheesiest of photos—the small child peeking out from behind an American flag. The art of campaigning is visual, as it's logistic and strategic, and Mitt Romney continues to be one of its poorer practitioners.

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