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Opinion: How Campaigns Ruin Candidates

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Editor-in-Chief Rick Green of the Des Moines Register posted a blog on the newspaper’s website describing an interview conducted with President Barack Obama on Oct. 23. He also described why he couldn’t describe it. The interview was conducted on the condition established by the White House and the Obama for America campaign that the president’s comments were off-the-record. As a result of Green’s blog post, the Obama campaign allowed the Register to post the interview in its entirety on Oct. 24.

This incident is just the latest piece of evidence that perhaps no one group is doing more to cost President Obama the 2012 election than his own campaign and staff. The same could be said, perhaps to an even greater degree, of Mitt Romney and his campaign. Increasingly, our candidates for public office are plagued by campaigns that are alternatingly impulsive, unresponsive, squabbling, incompetent, or in this case, heavy-handed with the press. Candidates, no matter how capable and worthy of the offices they seek, are too often separated from the public by a Great Wall of Staff.

Mitt Romney may be the biggest victim of his own campaign in this election so far. On Sept. 16, Politico posted a story describing the inner mechanisms and shortcomings of the Romney campaign. In the article, much of the blame for Romney’s lackluster convention speech and the laughable performance by Clint Eastwood is pointed at Romney’s Chief Strategist Stuart Stevens. Stevens reportedly had Romney’s speech rewritten at the last minute, which resulted in the conspicuous absence of any thanks to American troops or mention of al-Qaida and Afghanistan. The Romney campaign made yet another convention misstep by not giving Clint Eastwood any direction on what his speech should be about, resulting in a rambling, improvised piece of performance art. These blunders cut deeply into Romney’s popularity, and only Romney himself was able to recover the momentum with his command of the first debate.

On Oct. 2, BuzzFeed posted an article titled, “Reporters Can’t Talk About The Secret, Fun Mitt Romney,” which described how the former governor frequently pays casual visits to his travelling press corps during which he’s a loose, fun, friendly guy; all of the things not usually associated with Mitt Romney. However, these moments of candor and likability have been declared “off-the-record” by Romney campaign staff. It begs the question; why would a campaign grappling with what should be the simple task of portraying their candidate as a man with basic human emotions want to keep evidence of that fact under wraps?

As for the Register interview, there is nothing about it particularly damaging, or even slightly embarrassing to the president or his campaign. Just as Editor-in-Chief Rick Green wrote in his blog post, the interview is “an incredibly informative exchange of questions, answers and an insightful glimpse into the president’s vision for a second term. He made a genuine and passionate case for our endorsement and for re-election.”

Obama, who has recently received criticism for not sufficiently describing what the next four years of his presidency would look like, goes into great detail about his plans to make headway in reducing the deficit, reforming immigration, cutting unnecessary regulations and repairing America’s infrastructure. But to combat the perception that Obama lacks a second term vision, the campaign has printed 3.5 million copies of a glossy booklet entitled “The New American Patriotism: A Plan for Jobs and Middle-Class Security.” Wouldn’t it have been easier to just let the interview go to print?

Obviously both campaigns are doing whatever they can to make sure they’re candidates don’t make a costly, off-the-cuff remark, but this does not necessarily excuse Romney’s bumbling campaign staff and Obama for America’s iron-fisted grip on media reports. No matter how likable, knowledgeable and experienced, no matter how great a president any candidate would make or is making, their own campaigns will always find a way to undermine the character and fortitude that anyone bold enough to run for such an office must have.

It’s unrealistic, of course, to envision an America in which presidential candidates are responsible for their own campaigning, without the Great Wall of Staff revealing to the public only a funhouse mirror reflection of their personalities and visions. But in such an America, perceptions of our leaders might be warmer and more genuine, which may make the choice between them simpler.

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