Full disclosure: I am a Romney supporter. But this candidate has had some trouble with the media. In an article on Politico from last week, Reid J. Epstein says, “It’s the worst-kept secret of the 2012 campaign: The candidate who does the least public media-bashing — Mitt Romney— has the worst relationship of all with the press.”. And it’s true – compared to the other GOP candidates, Romney and the members of his campaign have been laying pretty low.
But how important is it really to have more media relations? From Romney’s Feb 24th Ford Field speech, it seems to be pretty important. Epstein argues that Feb 24th was a turning point in the campaign’s media strategy – post this event, the Romney campaign has adopted what he calls a “media charm offensive”. Suddenly people on the campaign have become more accessible, including Romney himself.
But why did he need to do this – why is having more media relations seen to be good? Is it true that any press is good press? I think Herman Cain and Rick Perry would disagree with that. One had an appalling interview go viral, where the word “Libya” became three painfully long syllables (“Li-bi-ya… let me think..”), while the other was stuck on a last point he couldn’t seem to remember.
The fate of political candidates seems now to be in the hands of the media and the social media, as they turn small moments into viral phenomenons that can destroy a candidate. Certainly, as the electorate, we can see this is a positive – the more we know about the failures of our candidates, the better. And now Romney seems to be getting on board too. But what if what we saw as a flaw in his campaign was actually a well calculated strength?
Let’s take a look at the polls for all the GOP candidates from February of last year till now.
What do we see? Every candidate has a pretty significant spike in popularity – say thank you to the media. And then BOOM, bye bye candidate, thank you media.
First we have Bachman (black) – sudden surge in popularity, then dead. Then it’s Hello, Perry (blue), only to wave our final goodbyes soon after. Herman Cain (red) has a laughable spike after that, and then is destroyed by his Libya interview, among others. And then we’re left with Gingrich (green), who has a large spike, followed by a smaller one, and Santorum, who comes from out of nowhere. (Ron Paul, for all practical purposes can be fairly discounted: present GOP candidate opinion poll.)
And, of course, there’s Romney (purple). Romney who has stayed away from the media, from its praise and its eventual bashing. Romney – the only one who has maintained a pretty steady position in the polls. Perhaps there was a reason?
One quick point I would like to make is that Romney has been smarter with the media pre-Ford Field debacle than we give him credit for. See that spot in between Gingrich’s green spikes? Romney has a teeny spike, while Gingrich has a massive and speedy decline. That’s thanks to the media, folks. Right before the Iowa caucus, Romney and his campaign leaders see that Gingrich is taking the lead. Suddenly the Romney campaign has an anti-Gingrich advertising spurt, and we have what was considered the first “heart-to-heart” with Romney, where he went from stoic to as close to warm and fuzzy as he’s going to get.
The takeaway: the media determines far more about a presidential nominee’s future than they would like, but perhaps there is a way to not be beholden to the media? Maybe the power can be shifted without us realizing?
And finally, as sad as this is for Romney supporters, I’m not sure if the campaign has quite figured out how to deal with the increased press coverage: