It wasn’t much of a surprise when the New York Times reported recently that Mitt Romney’s public events are “highly polished and hyper-scripted.” The Republican campaign doesn’t like surprises or circumstances outside of their control, so the candidate’s gatherings are tightly-controlled affairs.
But occasionally, Romney participates in events sponsored and organized by others, which makes campaign control more complicated. How does the Republican campaign deal with something like the Univision town-hall event in Miami last week? Apparently, by making ridiculous demands.
Mitt Romney’s campaign took a hard line with the Spanish-language network Univision, making last-minute demands in the run-up to last week’s town hall that helped insure his success in the forum, sources familiar with the broadcast told BuzzFeed.
When the Republican took his place Wednesday night in the first of two back-to-back candidate forums televised on the mega-network, he was greeted by an adoring, raucous crowd that cheered his every word, and booed many of the moderators’ questions. The next night, President Obama was treated to stone cold silence from the audience as he was aggressively grilled on his lackluster immigration record.
The contrast was widely noted by observers who watched both forums – and it was glaring enough to evoke some boasting from the Romney campaign in the immediate aftermath.
But the game was rigged. President Obama and his campaign team simply accepted the terms of the event, and agreed to follow Univision’s rules, including prioritizing the role of students at the University of Miami event, without incident.
Romney and his team had a different idea – when they couldn’t find enough University of Miami students who liked Romney, the campaign demanded that Univision drop its “students-only” rule and allow Team Romney to bus in hand-picked supporters to fill the seats.
The campaign threatened to cancel the televised event unless Univision and organizers met Romney’s demands. Organizers backed down (the University of Miami forum was coordinated by a local Romney campaign official). The bused-in Republican activists proceeded to ignore Univision requests to hold their applause, turning the forum into more of a pro-Romney rally.
Wait, it gets worse.
Univision’s Jorge Ramos, welcoming the audience to the forum, noted that Romney had agreed to a 35-minute event, while Obama would be on set the next night for a full hour. Ramos then invited the audience to welcome Romney to the stage, but the Republican didn’t show.
Romney was sulking and had more demands.
Apparently, Romney took issue with the anchors beginning the broadcast that way, said Salinas, and he refused to go on stage until they re-taped the introduction. (One Republican present at the taping said Romney “threw a tantrum.”)
“Our president of news was talking to the Romney campaign and negotiating it,” Salinas said. “But at that point, you can’t really argue with that. The candidate is there, everyone is in their seats, the show must go on. There’s a limit to how much we can object to it.”
The compromise reached was that the anchors would note the discrepancy in the candidates’ time commitments at the end of the broadcast. But Salinas said, by then, the crowd was cheering so loudly that they drowned out the anchors’ words.
There seems to be quite a bit of interest in Romney’s unflattering makeup at the event, but given the bigger picture, his willingness to rig the game in his favor seems far more important.
Incidentally, BuzzFeed’s report was critical of the Obama campaign for accepting the rules, not making demands, and not throwing a tantrum – the article called Obama’s cooperation “meek” – but in light of the details, it seems Romney’s handling of the event makes him look small and petty.