Why Romney Won’t Get a Gore-Like “Liar” Rep

Various liberals have been arguing that Mitt Romney is an unusually dishonest politician, and wondering when and whether he’ll wind up developing a reputation for it. David S. Bernstein (my brother), a veteran Romney-watcher, made the case that the press is starting to catch on; Greg Sargent is not as optimistic; and Paul Waldman just asks: “When Do Reporters Start Calling Mitt Romney a Liar?

My guess? They’re going to have to wait a long time. Partially, it’s because I think that to some extent the things they identify (the “apology tour”, for example) are really Republican, rather than Romney, inventions. As long as there are birthers out there, it’s harder for Romney to look all that truth-challenged. Partly, it’s because he’s running for president against noted snake-oil salesman and serial fabulist Newt Gingrich. Don’t get me started.

But the main thing is that I think the press really has limited capacity for these kinds of stereotypes, and they’ve already cast Romney for his: he’s Richie Rich. And of course, his constant gaffes in support of that image, from the $10K bet to his friends who own NASCAR and NFL teams, just help nail it down.

So Romney isn’t going to be cast as Pinocchio, pretty much whatever he does.

We know that these sorts of media-created images effect the way candidates are covered; in 2000, the same exact misstatement would have been covered as an example of George W. Bush’s (supposed) stupidity or Al Gore’s (supposed) dishonesty. What I’m curious about, however, is how this all plays out with how reporters do the work of covering candidates. Other than finding examples of Gore’s “lies” that they could turn into stories, did reporters covering Al Gore in 2000 actually act more suspicious of everything he said? Or was that mostly just for show? You can see where I’m going here — could Romney develop a reputation for casual  dishonesty among the press corps, even if it’s not the way they portray him? I don’t really know the answer to that one, but I’d like to know.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.