The Better Half

When Good Wives Attack: Ann Romney’s Tricky Defense of Mitt

Ann Romney’s called out critics and even chided supporters. It likely won’t help Mitt. By Michelle Cottle.

Look out, all you Mitt critics: Mama’s got her back up.

In an interview on Radio Iowa Thursday evening, Ann Romney donned her protective-matriarch hat and delivered a verbal spanking to all those nattering naybobs talking down her man. “Stop it. This is hard. You want to try it? Get in the ring.”

Ann reminded listeners of the important work her husband is doing, of how lucky Americans are to have such a great guy fighting for them, and of how little attention she pays to Republican naysayers: “It’s nonsense and the chattering class … you hear it and then you just let it go right by.”

She even took a gentle poke at some of the folks Mitt meets on the trail: “We call the rope line now the advice line,” she said, laughing, explaining that “everyone cares and everyone wants to help and everyone wants to just give their piece—a little piece of advice—so I feel like my best advice is just to bring peace and calm to him and just trust in him and just say, ‘I know you can do it,’ but not to give him any advice because it gets too overwhelming.”

Translation: All you rope-line people just shut the heck up. Mitt’s got enough on his mind without you yammering at him nonstop.

Give the gal points for spirit, but this is tricky terrain Ann is wandering into.

Some people will find her feistiness charming. Political campaigning does crush the soul. What wife wouldn’t be tempted to publicly defend her beloved against the cruelties of the trail? And no question Ann is well-suited to the role of protective Mama Bear. Fetching, gracious, ladylike, she has devoted her adult life to taking care of Mitt and the boys. Who better to assume that role now?

God knows Mitt couldn’t attempt this sort of defense himself. The guy already has a tendency to sound whiny and defensive. If he uttered one word about the difficulties of campaign life—much less some backhanded compliment about how full of advice those rope-liners are—the haters would wrestle the governor to the ground and tattoo “Crybaby” across his forehead. (Hillary could pull off her flash of vulnerability in New Hampshire in ’08 because A. She’s a woman. And more important, B. Everyone knows she’s a total badass.) What Romney does not need is for people to start whispering about whether he’s thick-skinned enough for this job.

But even Ann’s scolding of detractors could raise some of these questions. Much like Michelle Obama’s tweaking of Barack’s Superman image in ‘07 prompted complaints that she was emasculating her man, Ann’s mommyish finger-wagging risks making Mitt look like he’s letting his wife fight his battles. Back in ’07, Maureen Dowd in particular fretted that Michelle’s teasing, mostly about what an hopeless, undisciplined man-child Barack was around the house, fed into an existing narrative that the young senator was too green to lead the nation. So too could Ann’s defense of poor, besieged Mitt fuel the sense that the governor is too spoiled and sheltered to handle the Big Chair.

On the whole, Ann has been a political asset to Mitt. When she misfires, it typically has been in the service of convincing voters that her and Mitt’s life is not as charmed as advertised: how they “know what it is like to struggle,” as she asserted on Meet the Press, even if their “struggles have not been financial.”

Or take Ann’s exasperated response to Dems’ post-convention suggestions that Mitt doesn’t grasp how good he’s always had it: “For people to think that we don’t have empathy just because we’re not suffering like they’re suffering is ridiculous.”

Obviously Democratic Party players want to exploit the Romneys’ megawealth at every opportunity. But there are plenty of hard-working, garden-variety voters out there who question Mitt’s ability to feel their pain. For Ann to dismiss such thinking as “ridiculous” is, at best, impolitic.

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As Ann shared with Iowans this week, she’s having a tough time listening to people say mean things about her husband. In her rush to defend Mitt, however, enthusiasm often outpaces self-awareness, making it all too easy for Ann’s pushback to be received less as spunky supportiveness than as snippy whinging from this privileged, golden couple.