Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Do Reporters Dislike Mitt Romney?

Dont' come any closer! (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

Do reporters dislike Mitt Romney? And if so, what kind of a difference might that make? I'm prompted to ask by this post from Andrew Gelman at the Monkey Cage, in which he expresses doubt that back in 2000, reporters disliked Al Gore and liked George W. Bush. I won't spend time on that question—it has been extensively reported over the years, with not only quantitative analyses of the press coverage the two received, but plenty of on-the-record comments from reporters who were there at the time testifying that they and their colleagues found Bush to be a friendly fellow and thought Gore was a pedantic, phony liar. (In his post, Gelman confesses to not owning a television, which obviously calls into question his standing as a true American.) But the more interesting question now is the one about Romney.

This is sometimes difficult to assess clearly, since we all have a tendency to see press coverage that reinforces our beliefs as fair and objective, and coverage that contradicts our beliefs as unfair and biased. Liberals and conservatives both do this, although only conservatives created an entire industry out of crying "liberal bias!" and succeeded in getting virtually everyone on their side to weave that belief into their opinions and rhetoric on every single issue. If you're trying to assess it systematically, "bias" is extremely difficult to measure, particularly on the grounds people usually argue about. Researchers have come up with a variety of measures, but they almost inevitably leave important questions unanswered, in part because we usually have an implicit standard of objectivity we're referencing, and that standard raises questions that are hard to answer.

Defenders of the Vote

(AP Photo/Michael Perez)

You know you’re in a fledgling campaign office the moment you step off the street and into one of the plainest buildings in Germantown, a mostly black Philadelphia neighborhood that contains several Colonial landmarks. Along garish, peach-colored walls are maps of every inch of the city: council districts, wards, divisions, recreation centers. Mismatched tables sit empty, waiting for soon-to-be-installed phones that volunteers will use to call number after number. In one corner of the back office, there’s even a double megaphone ready to perch atop a van and spread the message.

Rather than touting a candidate, though, this campaign’s volunteers will be spreading news that they hate: Hundreds of thousands of registered voters in Philadelphia, and hundreds of thousands more across the state, are in danger of losing their voice in the November election. Welcome to the world of the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition, made up of 140 organizations—churches, labor unions, civic groups—which began training volunteers in July. The group’s job is to let voters know that, thanks to a law passed in March, they will have to carry a government-issued picture ID to the polls to ensure that their vote counts. The coalition will also help voters who lack the proper ID to acquire one—a process that is, in some cases, time-consuming and complicated.

Praying for the White House

(AP Photo/White House)

Eight years ago, innumerable commentators said "values voters"—in other words, voters with conservative values—were responsible for George W. Bush's re-election (liberal voters, apparently, don't have values, they just have opinions). They noticed a correlation between religiosity and the propensity to vote Republican, and in the most religious of all industrialized countries, this "God gap" was routinely characterized as a problem that Democrats had to solve if they were to avoid electoral doom. In fact, today the "God gap" is more of a wash for the two parties, and in the future it could become the Republicans' problem.

The Hungarian Solution

If the current wave of Republican criticism of Mitt Romney—due to his ideological uncertainty and the general incompetence of his campaign—keeps up, here’s a suggestion for a replacement candidate: Viktor Orban.

The Danger of "Scoring Points"

Mitt Romney, digging a hole.

Mitt Romney is running for president. And I guess it can be hard, when you're running for president and your focus every day is convincing the American voter that you're a great guy and your opponent is awful, not to approach every new development in the world by seeing it as yet another opportunity to tell everyone that your opponent is awful. But when the only question you ask yourself is, "How can I use this to make my opponent look bad?" you run the risk of making yourself look like a jerk. Sometimes during a campaign, a candidate will be asked, "Is there anything your opponent has done that you agree with?" or "Is there anything good you can say about him?" Usually they say, "He has a lovely family," as though the thought that he might have done a single thing right is just impossible to contemplate. To say otherwise would be passing up an opportunity to "score points."

And this, I think, is the root of why Romney did what he did yesterday and came out looking like such an asshole. American civil servants had died in the line of duty, and the only thing he could think to do was use it as the occasion for a weak, unpersuasive attack on Barack Obama, delivered at an appallingly inappropriate moment. All he wanted was to "score points."

Reckless Romney

"I would point out that we have one president at a time and one administration at a time," President Obama said in June, responding to a critical op-ed by a Romney adviser in a German newspaper. "And I think traditionally, the notion has been that America’s political differences end at the water’s edge.” The president was merely restating one of the nation's oldest remaining traditions of bipartisan comity. The op-ed kerfuffle was, of course, absolutely nothing compared to the Romney campaign's latest break from that tradition.

Poverty Stays Static, But Income Inequality Widens

As economists keep telling us, the Great Recession is officially over. The U.S. gross domestic product grew by a sad 1.8 percent last year. Here's why you probably don't know it: Just about every ounce of economic gain went to the top.

Mitt Romney Responds to Libyan Crisis in Worst Way Possible

Last night, an armed mob—angry over an American-made video denigrating the Prophet Muhammad—attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens, along with three of his staff members. This came after a similar uprising in Egypt, where protesters climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and tore down the American flag. Initial reports on the situation—which revealed the death of a U.S. official—were followed by this statement from the Romney campaign:

Mitt Romney's Character Problem

(Flickr/David Lawrence)

“Character” is a word that Republicans used a lot in the 1990s, by which they meant President Bill Clinton’s sexual behavior. “At least,” my Republican mother said pointedly upon the election of George W. Bush, “he’s a man of character,” unlike the previous guy getting blow jobs from interns in the Oval Office. If their candidate for president this year should lose in November, it will be interesting to see to what extent Republicans understand that character is one of the reasons. As Governor Mitt Romney’s prospects grow more daunting, a view has emerged from the right that the problem is the political flaws and tactical missteps of the candidate and his campaign, in what Republicans insist to themselves should otherwise be a “gimme” election (to quote radio talk-show host Laura Ingraham). But the Romney Problem is more profound, and it’s one of character, not tactics.


Time was when the political woods were full of Joe Bidens—super-gregarious retail politicians who could yell themselves hoarse at one campaign stop about how the rich and powerful are screwing everybody over, then in the next town go all quiet and sincere and wring tears from even the toughest characters in the crowd. Those old-style pols lived to campaign, and they campaigned for their lives—especially back in the way-old days when political speechifying was a major form of entertainment in many parts of the country.

Mitt Romney Is Not the New John Kerry

If there’s anything anyone remembers about the 2004 election, it’s the Bush campaign’s vicious attacks on John Kerry’s foreign policy record. From his Iraq War vote to his decorated service in Vietnam, the Bush campaign worked to tarnish Kerry’s bona fides and present him as someone unfit to lead the country during a time of war. By the end of the election, when the polls were still close, Team Bush was openly floating the idea that the United States would face a terrorist attack if Kerry was elected president.

Swing-State Scare Tactics

(AP Photo/Marc Levy)

We’ve heard a lot about debates over strict voter-ID legislation this cycle, but there’s an even more pressing problem in some parts of the country: intimidation at the ballot box. In addition to pushing for these voter-ID laws—which require citizens to show a government-issued ID before casting their ballot—conservative groups like True the Vote have alleged widespread voter fraud, recruiting volunteers to act as poll watchers and look for any signs of illegality from voters. True the Vote has also pushed volunteers to comb through the voter rolls for signs of fraud. It's left many worried about the likelihood of scaring voters away from the polls.

It all begs the question: What laws are on the books to protect the right to vote?

On Foreign Policy, Romney Promises Bush Redux

If there’s one must-read on the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, it’s Kurt Eichenwald’s op-ed in the New York Times, in which he illustrates the extent to which intelligence agencies had warned the Bush administration of Osama bin Laden’s activities on American soil. The most striking detail is the fact that the infamous August 6 memo—“Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”—was preceded by a series of documents, stretching back to the spring of 2001. For example:

Warren's Bump

The big story late last week, after the Democratic National Convention ended, was that President Obama had received a monster bump—Nate Silver put it at almost eight points—made all the more dramatic when compared to Republican challenger Mitt Romney's measley plus one.  But Obama isn't the only one leaving the party in Charlotte on an upward path: a new poll today shows Elizabeth Warren pulling even with Scott Brown, the Massachusetts Republican who she wants to replace in the Senate.

The Devil Is in the Details

Mitt Romney is pro-baby, and he doesn't care who knows it! (Flickr/tvnewsbadge)

Every candidate confronts the question of how detailed they should be in their policy plans, and the basic calculation goes as follows: I want to seem substantive and serious, so it's good to have detailed plans, but I don't want the plans to be so detailed that they give my opponent something to use against me and allow voters to find things they don't like. So usually they find some middling level of specificity, and tolerate whatever criticism they get from one end for not being detailed enough, and from the other end for specific ideas people don't like. But rarely does the question of how specific you're being become a story in and of itself.

Mitt Romney has arrived at that moment, when his unwillingness to reveal exactly what he wants to do in a variety of policy areas is becoming a story in its own right. Here's Steve Kornacki writing about it in Salon. Here's the Wall Street Journal editorial page criticizing him for not being specific. Here's a TPM report on other conservatives scolding Romney for his vagueness. Here's an L.A. Times editorial asking for specifics on Romney's tax plan (which we'll get to in a moment. Here's an NPR story about the specificity question. And President Obama is picking up the issue and using it as an attack, which helps propel the story forward.

It's one thing to be vague because you think getting bogged down in a discussion of details will distract from your broader message, but it's another thing to be vague because a discussion of details will reveal that you're promising things you can't possibly deliver.