David Frum

07.27.12

Romney's Media Guru: Nixon

romney-learned-from-nixon-avlon-tease
AP Photo; Getty Images

John Avlon looks at Mitt Romney's strategy for dealing with the press and identifies the politician that he seems to have learned his lessons from. It is not his own father, George Romney, it's Richard Nixon:

Nothing nearly as sinister is at work here. But the lessons of George Romney’s loss should no longer be persuasive. After all, Nixon ran in the television age, not in a time of social media. Clamping down on unwanted stories simply by not commenting or cooperating can’t work as well. In addition, Romney doesn’t have Nixon’s executive record in government—encapsulated in his rehabilitation book Six Crises—as a rationale to run on. Romney’s one term as Governor does not offer many clear accomplishments, other than healthcare reform, which he can’t/won’t talk about.

But after three decades of rumination, it’s easy to see how this painful youthful lesson could distort judgment. Suspicion of the media’s malevolent mischief is the rationale Romney uses to refuse to release more than two years’ tax returns, even when his father set the precedent by releasing 12. Likewise, Romney’s supposedly magnanimous refusal to answer questions about foreign policy specifics fell flat. Here’s Romney pushing back on CNN’s Piers Morgan last night, the first non-Fox cable news interview he’s done in weeks.

Piers: “How will you be different as a Republican president? How will you avoid the kind of pitfalls perhaps that President Bush fell into?”

Mitt: “Well, first, I have to note that as tradition for our nation, I, being on foreign soil, avoid speaking about a new foreign policy or my foreign policy or doing that in a place that would in any way detract from the president's effort to pursue his own foreign policy. So I really can't—I can't go down that path.”

Bull. There is a distinguished tradition of not criticizing the president of the United States when overseas. But it does not extend to a refusal to detail a candidate’s own foreign policy plans.