Republican Party keen to broadcast Romneys' fairytale romance

Sat, Aug 25, 2012, 01:00

AMERICA:The White House race illustrates the notion that the wives of politicians say a lot about their parties’ core values, writes LARA MARLOWE

IN THE midst of a culture war over abortion and same-sex marriage, the Republican Party has chosen as a keynote speaker that paragon of the traditional wife and mother, Ann Romney, for the opening night of its convention.

Mitt emits cool calculation. Ann emotes. Even the hard-nosed New York Times cloyingly described her as “the warm mother of five, the devoted grandmother of 18 and the glowing presence beside her husband”.

The party is so keen to exploit the Romneys’ fairytale romance and marriage, and the prospect of Ann as first lady, that organisers yesterday scrambled to reschedule her convention speech from Monday night – when US networks will not have started broadcasting live from Tampa – until Tuesday, so she can charm the widest possible audience.

The wives of male politicians say a lot about their parties’ values. Michelle Obama is a Princeton and Harvard-educated lawyer who was once her husband’s supervisor. Vice-President Joe Biden’s wife Jill uses her “Dr” title and has continued teaching.

Ann Romney and Janna Ryan, wife of Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, are blonde, blue-eyed, impeccably groomed stay-at-home moms. Democrats learned not to knock that sacrosanct profession when the Democratic pundit Hilary Rosen said last spring that Ann Romney “never worked a day in her life”.

Ann tweeted: “I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work.”

In the run-up to Mother’s Day, Ann published an opinion piece saying “there is no crown more glorious” than “the crown of motherhood”.

Ann’s Welsh immigrant father disliked religion, and her mother was an avid believer in zero population growth. She defied them by converting to Mormonism at the age of 17, marrying at 19 and having a large family. In another sign of Ann’s powerful will, she converted her two brothers, and eventually her mother, to Mormonism.

Ann Romney describes herself as a “she-beast” when anyone criticises her husband. Asked last month why Mitt would not follow the example of other politicians and release income tax returns for multiple years, she fired back: “You know, you should really look at where Mitt has led his life and where he’s been financially. He’s been a very generous person. We give 10 per cent of our income to our church every year. Do you think that is the kind of person that is trying to hide things?”

When Mitt Romney challenged Ted Kennedy for his Senate seat in 1994, newspapers called Ann a “Stepford wife”. She was ridiculed for saying the couple were so poor as students that they had to sell some of their stocks and bonds. She made a similar slip during the Republican primaries, telling Fox News she did not consider herself wealthy. But the Romneys’ fortune is estimated at $250 million (€199 million).

The Romneys trace Mitt’s reverence for Ann to the fact he almost lost her to another suitor when he was a missionary in France. Mitt was 18, Ann 15, when they saw The Sound of Music on their first date. They married four years later to the day. “When they were dating,” their eldest son Tagg told Romney’s biographers Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, “he felt like she was way better than him and he was really lucky to have this catch. He genuinely still feels that way.”

Romney himself told Parade magazine: “At least 90 per cent of my life could be explained as Mitt trying to impress Ann.” When Ann was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998, she thought her life was over. “And it was Mitt who said, ‘You’re still here. We’re still together. We will get through this together,” she told a women’s breakfast last year.

The Romney campaign last winter contrasted Romney’s behaviour with that of then candidate Newt Gingrich, who left his first and second wives after they fell ill. More recently, Ann said the illness “left me with a heart that’s more open and compassionate for all the others who are suffering”. She learned, she said, “that we don’t escape this life without a little bit of tragedy and chaos and difficulty”.

Dressage horseback riding is one of several therapies Ann uses to keep the disease in remission. The Romneys have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in horses, but Ann dismisses criticism of her hobby as elitist. “This is my life. This is a vehicle that brought me health and joy and happiness, and if it’s misunderstood, I can’t do anything about that,” she told USA Today.

If her husband is elected in November, Ann Romney says her priorities will be research on multiple sclerosis and breast cancer, and fighting teen pregnancy. “You’re going to see horses at the White House. And lots of grandchildren,” she told Parade. “Mitt is going to win,” she says frequently, with apparent conviction. She claims “there’s a wild and crazy man” inside her husband. To borrow Mitt’s favourite phrase, when he’s challenged on his taxes, we’ll just have to take her word for it.