Losing the news cycle: Romney’s rough week

Mitt Romney’s hopes for finally achieving the presidency ride upon one issue: the economy. There exists no other path to the presidency in November than a majority of Americans believing that he can either fix the ailing economy or expedite its recovery.

Mitt RomneyPhoto by Dave Delay

Mitt Romney surrounded by supporters during the Milford Labor Day parade. Milford, NH.

So that makes this one of the most miserable weeks possible for camp Romney.

The last news cycle in the world that they want to slog through is one on civil rights or cultural issues. They will never be his strength. He lacks the empathy and eloquence of Rick Santorum or even the bull-dozing passion of Newt Gingrich when it comes to values debates.

Worse, his past as a moderate governor of a deeply blue state doesn’t speak well to his base’s values and the non-issue of his religion keeps hanging around the fringes of national conversations.

So a week dedicated to North Carolina’s Amendment One, President Obama’s decision to go public with his support of gay marriage, and the Washington Post hit piece on Romney’s high school years makes for a pretty miserably off-topic news cycle.   

Well-planned accident

While I don’t tend to put much credence in conspiracy theories, if we find out in 10 years that Biden’s slip of the tongue was a well-planned feint ahead of North Carolina’s vote, I will hardly find it shocking.

Look at the timeline:

* Biden brings up his support of same-sex marriage a week ahead of North Carolina’s vote, which is not exactly dominating national news at the time.

* The President hedges on his support of same sex marriage, feeding a news cycle about the subject leading up to the North Carolina vote.

* North Carolina, the state hosting the Democratic National Convention, unsurprisingly passes Amendment One.

* President Obama uses the wake of the North Carolina vote in a news cycle already devoted to same sex marriage to come out in support of the right of LGBT citizens to legally marry.

* Romney, who has by and large been a bystander during the last two weeks, suddenly finds himself thrust into the role of antagonist by a Washington Post story that outlines his possible bullying of a high school student in the 1960s. The bullying is possibly the result of perceptions about the student’s sexual identity.

Those events over a two-week time period offer a lot of happenstance for such a carefully articulated narrative about right and wrong and the current struggle for civil rights in this country.

Character issues and leadership

Romney took a rough blow on the chin with the Washington Post piece. Whether or not it’s fair to talk about behavior issues in high school, the real problem is how Romney addressed the issue. The campaign rushed him into a radio interview where he promptly denied remembering the incident and gave a very political and hedging apology “if [he] hurt anyone” with his actions.

In the midst of a civil rights struggle, you don’t want to look like you are on the wrong side of history with a weak-kneed, half-hearted apology. Speaking of the wrong side of history, not even Fox News had Romney’s back this week.

The Shep Smith factor

When the story broke about President Obama’s support of same sex marriage, the first news coverage I saw was Fox News’ Shep Smith. I thought he seemed a bit aggressive in attacking those against LGBT rights and was surprised at how quick Shep compared the LGBT rights movement to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. In particular, he seemed aggravated at the idea of states being left to decide individually the limitations of civil liberties because we’ve been down that path before.

So when other commentators started pointing to those and other comments by Smith as a sign of the times, the Romney camp had to see just how bad a week this had been. Fox News’ primary news anchor (as opposed to the wealth of pundits) was on television reporting to the base that denying LGBT rights was a lost cause reminiscent of the segregated South.

Worse, the next day the Washington Post would paint their man as the Gov. Wallace in this lost battle. Where was the jobs report when you needed it? Well, it came out last Friday, was bad, and no one cared. That’s timing.

Still a long road ahead

In the end, no matter how rough, one week will not make or break a campaign. What it shows is that the Romney camp has a hard time pivoting from discussing anything unrelated to the economy.  They failed to handle the Grenell situation, no one wants to serve as vice president, and, after this week, one wonders if they can take advantage of next month’s ruling on Obamacare.

So, yes, Romney only lost one news cycle this week, but it was a big one and it might serve as a warning for his limitations in controlling the dialogue outside of the economy.

Michael Trice has 15 years of experience working in the fields of technology, publishing, and communication for universities and Fortune 500 companies. In 2009, he served as a Fulbright scholar to the Centre for Digital Citizenship in Leeds.  Michael's thoughts on social media have been published in Writing and the Digital Generation and The Ethics of Emerging Media.