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Donna Perry: Mitt’s Moment is Now

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Days before the polls closed on Tuesday evening in the New Hampshire Primary which solidified Mitt Romney’s status as the clear frontrunner, there was an unscripted moment on the stage during the ABC News sponsored debate Saturday evening which seemed to confirm that Romney had finally found his voice and the finicky Republican constituency was finally beginning to like the sound of it.

The moment had to do with Romney’s deft handling of a curiously off topic question posed by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, who was co-moderating the debate with Diane Sawyer. Stephanopoulos, a former Clinton White House communications guru who cannot possibly represent an objective perspective, was nonetheless posing as a journalist, as he is handsomely paid to do, week in and week out at ABC, and had a loaded up line of questioning ready for the Republican frontrunner.

In the midst of a string of questions and candidate responses on topics like the status of the U.S. economy and the persistent challenges to substantial job creation,Stephanopoulos took a slight pause, set his sights squarely on Romney, and--- wanted to know whether the former Governor believes states have the right to ban contraception.

Romney, appearing authentically puzzled, stated that no state would want to do that; there is no such law attempting or proposing that, and keeping his poise in full measure, countered directly back at Stephanopoulos that he was unclear exactly what was intended by the question and furthermore was not sure how it was relevant to the wider discussion.

It’s been arch conservative GOP contender Rick Santorum who has suggested that a strict interpretation of the Constitution would imply such a ban, but George was trying his best to stick it on Romney. However, the applause that erupted following Romney’s firm rejection of the question drowned out much of ole George’s awkward and feeble defense of his smarmy non-question question and signified the auditorium audience, as well as no doubt the millions in theTV audience, was keyed into the charade unveiling before them.

Stephanopoulos, employing the all too common and smarmy tradition of network interviewers trying to bait a candidate into a headline grabbing response, was trying to fabricate a non-existing contraception controversy in hopes of both turning off independent leaning GOP women voters as well as producing a debate “gotcha” moment for ABC News—and himself.

A Refusal to Take the Bait

Romney’s dignified refusal to take the bait andvisible skepticism as to the relevance of the topic helped to magnify his stature as the inevitable nominee and expose the games played by network “journalists” all in one fell swoop.

Furthermore, Romney weathered the eleventh hour media storm that took hold Monday, on the eve of the vote, when the “I like to fire people” remark, which was taken out of context, went viral in the media. Romney’s statement, wildly mischaracterized, was actually part of an important discussion about portable health plans and insurers.

That moment not only vividly telegraphed the unprincipled tendency by the press to just extrapolate a gaffe in the midst of a wider set of comments, but also underscores the media’s diminishing interest in substance and overall preoccupation with sensationalized sound bites and superficial quotes in the course ofnational campaign coverage.

Perhaps that’s why the stubbornly unscripted and wildly popular Ron Paul candidacy has not only persisted to this point but achieved a clear second place finish in New Hampshire this week.

To his great credit, Paul came to Romney’s defense over the “fire people” gaffe, and chided his fellow GOP contenders for piling on when they should have known better the wider context of what Romney was intending. What makes Paul’s gesture so appropriate is that the subject Romney was engaged in prior to the “gaffe” moment is a serious and important topic affecting countless Americans struggling with chaotic health insurance coverage options in the turbulent job market, which should warrant substance reporting.

In the days to come there’s no question the Romney campaign could be traveling over rough terrain as the press examination of his tenure at Bain Capital comes under more intensive scrutiny and the remaining GOP contenders continue to fire away in South Carolina and beyond in what is now becoming a seemingly futile pursuit to topple the frontrunner.

But having achieved the unprecedented Republican primary coup of wining both the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary, Romney and his campaign deserve to savor the moment. Perhaps the largest lesson the ascension of Romney represents is that, despite the media spin, the more moderate wing of the Party is alive and well and now appears unstoppable on its way to center stage.

Donna Perry is a Communications Consultant to RISC, the RI Statewide Coalition


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