Yesterday, political communications expert Hilary Rosen, in response to the burgeoning conventional wisdom that “Ann Romney understands the pain women feel in the economy,” pointed out that Mrs. Romney has “never worked a day in her life.” Ann Romney retorted that raising 5 kids is hard work and the Obama campaign joined Mrs. Romney in demanding an apology from Rosen.
Rosen upped the stakes by replying on Twitter that:
I am raising children too. But most young American women HAVE to BOTH earn a living AND raise children. You know that don’t u?
While the Romney campaign tries to vilify Rosen and the Obama campaign rapidly distances itself, the media is talking about how this was a gift to the Romney campaign. On the contrary, I think this is one of the best possible developments for the Obama campaign.
To preface, the rise of Ann Romney in the last several weeks has been a potent mix of her naturally superior political talents (both generally and specifically as compared to her husband) and the Romney campaign’s efforts to foreground Mrs. Romney in response to Mitt’s 19 point deficit among women. He begins stump speeches by bemoaning, “I wish Ann were here” and then pivots to explain that it is Ann, and not Mitt, who talks to women on the stump. More than just angling Ann Romney as a popular surrogate, Mitt has conceded the “kitchen table” economic debate to his wife’s expertise. For weeks, “Ann understands the impact of the recession on women.” “Ann feels your pain even if I don’t.”
This was a pretty shrewd move on the part of the campaign. With the exception of Hillary Clinton (and to a lesser extent Michelle Obama), First Lady candidates are not attacked and couching your policy behind a spouse sequesters it from attack. The Obama campaign has not gotten direct traction against Romney’s claims that the economy is hurting women until yesterday’s disastrous “92.3%” speech (more on that later) and the Lily Ledbetter kerfuffle.
But Rosen’s comments place a permanent asterisk on Ann Romney’s economic credibility. While the Obama campaign will avoid any blame for what an independent Democrat says, every time Ann Romney is credited with “feeling your pain,” an audience will wonder, “but does she?” The fact that she “drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually” will ring in the ears of the public. Every time she has a press availability and mentions the economy, any reporter worth their salt will have to ask about the Rosen comments and her answer that “I raised 5 kids,” while undeniably hard work, will start to lose its power after 30-40 iterations as people start wondering “yes, but how does that play into getting women back in the work force?”
It’s too early to tell, but I’ll bet good money that liberal talking heads will spend today saying that they object to Rosen’s comments and simultaneously litter their comments with the phrase “working mothers” to subconsciously reinforce Rosen’s attack. That’s my lock of the week.
In the short-term, the Romney campaign will have an issue to wave in public, but as this plays out, Romney will find that his best surrogate on the economy has been neutralized.