Horse Race

Lay Off the Dressage Attacks on Mitt and Ann Romney’s Horse Rafalca

The Romneys spend $77,000 on Rafalca, but the Democrats’ attack also looks bad, writes Michelle Cottle.

AP Photo; Getty Images

Now that Rafalca has made her Olympic debut, can we please let the whole dressage thing go?

I realize that, for Romney’s critics, it’s superfun to rib the upper-crusty Republican nominee about the sport’s ultra-poshness and that he and Ann shell out $77,000 a year caring for their stunning equine Olympiad—which is, by the way, $50,000 above (PDF) what the U.S. census bureau cites as the nation’s per capita yearly income.

Romney’s defenders, in turn, clearly relish getting all puffed up and self-righteous about how dressage isn’t a richie-poo hobby so much as vital therapy for Ann’s multiple sclerosis, thank you very much, and how utterly gauche of liberals to poke fun of the health needs of the candidate’s wife.

In the end, everyone comes off looking bad.

Yes. Dressage is a useful therapy for people with multiple sclerosis. But most folks who suffer from the condition don’t feel the need to go all in and buy themselves an Olympic-grade ride. Similarly, while swimming with dolphins is terrific therapy for children with various special needs, I’d venture a guess that very few of these kids’ parents feel the need to set up their own version of Sea World in the backyard. The Romneys are extremely rich. The extremely rich get to do special things that the rest of us cannot. To posture and pretend otherwise is just asking for more mockery.

That said, the Dems need to lay off the horse-based attacks for a couple of reasons: one, the subject lends itself too easily to cheap shots that make Romney’s critics look like a bunch of smirky, bitter adolescents. Have you seen the new ad? A talking “Rafalca” with a boarding-school accent gloating over how the Romneys take much better care of her than they would of the American people: “How do I pull off such grace and athleticism while looking so good? Maybe it’s because the Romneys spend $77,000 a year on my upkeep, and after Mitt Romney repeals healthcare and ships your job overseas, I daresay your life will not be nearly as pampered as mine. After all, you’re not one of his horses.”

Oy. I realize political ads are not known for their subtlety, but this one isn’t even clever. Moreover, because dressage is Ann’s passion (not Mitt’s) and does have a genuine therapeutic component to it, focusing on the horse gives conservatives an easy comeback, risks turning Ann Romney into a victim of nasty politicking—never a good move—and winds up distracting from the broader critique of Mitt as hopelessly out-of-touch with regular people and quite possibly hiding something about his personal wealth.

Take the DNC’s ad featuring clips of Rafalca prancing about, mashed together with clips of Mitt’s “dancing around” the issue of his tax returns. The questions being raised by the ad are serious. The clips of Romney bumbling and stumbling are devastating. But because the ad drags Rafalca into the fray, it opened the door for the fair and lovely Ann to express her dismay over it on Good Morning America.

This, in turn, led the DNC to apologize for offending the candidate’s wife—ensuring that the cheap horse shots were all anybody would remember about a perfectly legitimate criticism of Romney.

So enough already with the dressage. Yes, all the prancing and pirouetting is precious. The top hat and white gloves are hard to resist mocking. But, where Rafalca is concerned, no one can neatly claim the high ground. Best to leave the real horse out of this particular race.