As a candidate, Mitt Romney has several weaknesses. He says a lot of dumb things. He has a history of flip-flopping on the issues. He makes the Grey Poupon guy seem like an average Joe.
But Mitt’s main political liability may wind up being a decision he made 30 years ago—to coax the family dog into its crate, strap the pooch to the roof of the family station wagon and head out from Boston on a 12-hour drive to the Romney summer home in Ontario.
Along the way, Seamus the Irish setter developed what the media have elegantly described as “intestinal distress,” which manifested in a hydrous, mephitic substance that—aw, enough elegance, the diarrhea pretty much coated the car windows, okay? Cool-headed Mitt pulled into a gas station, borrowed a hose, cleaned up the car, cleaned off the dog and put him back up top for the final leg of the journey.
The story was recounted by Romney’s friends as an example of the man’s calm under crisis. And frankly, you can see why they thought it would be interpreted positively: cleaning up other people’s crap is pretty much all the President does these days.
Alas, the story of Seamus’s rooftop ride has become a political burden. Gail Collins of the New York Times shoehorns it into every political column. An organization called Dogs Against Romney has more than 50,000 Facebook supporters. There’s even a satirical book, Dog on the Roof, set to be published in June.
In mounting a defence, Romney insisted that Seamus enjoyed being on the roof because the dog “liked fresh air.” And hey, if a dog likes fresh air, imagine how much he’d enjoy the kind that comes at him at 75 miles an hour loaded with bugs.
(Barack Obama has canine baggage as well, having acknowledged that he ate dog meat as a child in Jakarta. But Americans are forgiving because he was a boy at the time and also because many of them don’t know what a “Jakarta” is.)
The Seamus saga has been described as a “character-illuminating anecdote.” Combined with another story from Mitt’s past—a bunch of school chums held down a gay classmate while Romney cut off some of the boy’s “longish, blond hair”—it basically guarantees that future presidential candidates will need to hire campaign staff at puberty to head off potentially damaging anecdotes from youth and early adulthood.
Teenager: I’m going to Dairy Queen.
Strategist: And have the voters of 2048 think you supported the monarchy? I THINK NOT.
As the election draws nearer, the Seamus anecdote is gaining negative traction. Here are three ways for Romney to address it directly:
1. Own it. Embrace the probability that anyone who’ll vote against him because of Seamus was never likely to vote for him. So have some fun with it, like Sarah Palin did with “Drill, baby, drill,” and Dick Cheney did with shooting guys in the face.
Put a doghouse on top of the Romney campaign bus. Point out that over the years plenty of animals have enjoyed riding on top of vehicles—Teen Wolf, for instance. The point is that Romney can reclaim and repurpose the image of the rooftop rider. Potential slogan: You may have to ride up top, America, but Mitt Romney will get you there!
2. Enlist third-party validators. Romney could cajole volunteers to ride in a small box on top of a car and say it’s not so bad. Maybe start with reporters who covered the dying days of the Newt Gingrich campaign—compared to that ordeal, a dozen hours of relentless windswept terror sounds like a blast.
3. Go negative on Seamus. It’s not easy to assail the character of a deceased family pet—or it wasn’t until the introduction of super PACs, which can funnel unlimited funds into ruthless political advertising.
Sinister music. A narrator reads in baritone.
Seamus the dog. He claimed to be man’s best friend. But Seamus pooped all over this nice man’s car.
Photo: Sad Mitt Romney.
You know who else was known to poop? Hitler. Seamus the Irish setter: he was pretty much dog Hitler.
Photo: Seamus with a Hitler moustache.
Bad dog, Seamus. Bad dog.