Reporters at the blog Stylite.com tracked down the shirt Ann Romney wore on CBS's morning show Monday – and found out it cost $990. We mention this only because we, too, were struck by Mrs. Romney's shirt. It had a very large bird across the front, and was unusually eye-catching and hip for a political spouse. It also made Mitt Romney, who was sitting beside his wife in his customary suit and tie, look somehow even more buttoned-down than usual.
In fact, the shirt almost overshadowed what Mrs. Romney actually said in the interview. Asked about popular misconceptions about her husband, she said she felt he had been wrongly characterized as "stiff" – when in fact, he was a "wild and crazy" guy.
"I still look at him as the boy that I met in high school when he was playing all the jokes and really just being crazy, pretty crazy," she told Charlie Rose. "And so there's a wild and crazy man inside of there."
Maybe she meant it in a Steve-Martin-and-Dan-Aykroyd kind of way.
This was actually just the latest in a series of "wild man" comments Mrs. Romney has made about her husband, in an evident effort to loosen up his image.
Earlier this month, in a radio interview, she responded to another question about Romney's perceived stiffness by saying: "I guess we better unzip him and let the real Mitt Romney out, because he is not!" She also called him "the life of the party."
Likewise, in a recent interview with "Entertainment Tonight," she called him "a very funny guy," and offered as proof: "He doesn't comb his hair when we are not going places."
Even as far back as December, Mrs. Romney was referring to her husband as "my most disobedient child," saying: “The five boys – can you imagine? – at the dinner table, they never behaved. And Mitt was the worst of all.”
Now, it's common practice for political spouses to offer voters behind-the-scenes glimpses of the candidate's lighter side, to make them seem more human. And sometimes these "relatable" anecdotes don't exactly go over the way they're intended – as when Michelle Obama told an interviewer back in 2007 that daughters Sasha and Malia didn't like cuddling with their dad in the mornings because he was "too snore-y and stinky," possibly forever linking President Obama and morning breath in the minds of many voters.
But even more important than not being unnecessarily icky, the picture the spouse conveys needs to seem honest. Efforts to present a candidate's more down-to-earth side still have to comport with voters' general sense of who he or she really is. Otherwise, they ring hollow or smack of desperation.
Back in 2000, Al Gore's wife Tipper – who, like Mrs. Romney, was seen as far more easygoing and personable than her spouse – was repeatedly called on to try to lighten Mr. Gore's image, with decidedly mixed results. (Much of it seemed as forced as the couple's infamous seven-second kiss at the Democratic convention.)
Perhaps it's just us, but when Ann Romney talks about her husband like he's the world's biggest cutup, it doesn't exactly sound convincing – or even all that helpful. We'd argue Mrs. Romney is a far more effective advocate when she speaks about her husband's strengths as a husband and father, or as a fix-it guy.
Given that the Obama campaign is reportedly trying to portray Romney as a Don Draper-esque throwback, maybe Romney should instead try to turn that into a strength. Perhaps some faucet-fixing anecdotes from Ann are in order?