Report: Part of Romney’s Storm Relief Rally Was Pure Photo Op

With each day the most troubling aspect of Republican Presidential Mitt Romney’s campaign is how it seems to be a campaign that on so many levels is not being honest with voters. Now, in the case of Hurricane Sandy, we see that the planned political rally hurriedly transformed into a (supposedly) non-campaign rally storm relief rally yesterday was partly sheer photo op. Buzzfeed’s headline:

The Making Of Romney’s Storm Relief Event
A scramble to depoliticize a political campaign, and $5,000 in supplies from Wal-Mart.
“Just grab something.

And the details:

But the last-minute nature of the call for donations left some in the campaign concerned that they would end up with an empty truck. So the night before the event, campaign aides went to a local Wal Mart and spent $5,000 on granola bars, canned food, and diapers to put on display while they waited for donations to come in, according to one staffer. (The campaign confirmed that it “did donate supplies to the relief effort,” but would not specify how much it spent.)

Oh.

And this is laudable:

When showtime arrived the following morning, local campaign staffers were pleasantly surprised by their supporters’ generosity.

“We were incredibly pleased with the outpouring of support we received from volunteers and generous contributors from southwest and central Ohio,” said Christopher Maloney, Romney’s Ohio spokesman, adding, “We’re pleased that Ohio could play a role, albeit a minor one, in the relief effort.”

Reports yesterday painted the portrait of a rally that was in fact political, from the buttons to the glossy video about Romney that was shown at the GOP convention. Buzzfeed’s report says this was due to the late minute change and confusion. Fair enough:

But then you have this:

But even as Romney, clad in blue jeans and rolled-up sleeves, hustled around his area of the gym, shaking hands, thanking supporters, and stacking cases of bottled water on top of each other, signs of stagecraft remained.

As supporters lined up to greet the candidate, a young volunteer in a Romney/Ryan t-shirt stood near the tables, his hands cupped around his mouth, shouting, “You need a donation to get in line!”

Empty-handed supporters pled for entrance, with one woman asking, “What if we dropped off our donations up front?”

The volunteer gestured toward a pile of groceries conveniently stacked near the candidate. “Just grab something,” he said
.
Two teenage boys retrieved a jar of peanut butter each, and got in line. When it was their turn, they handed their “donations” to Romney. He took them, smiled, and offered an earnest “Thank you.”

Donations to storm relief? Laudable. The way it was stage managed where people had to grab a “donation” from the front to get to the line to greet the candidate (and be in camera range)? The intent was good but it became one more campaign event that used the pretext of the storm to generate images of the candidate in a way that was not completely honest with voters.

New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait:

McKay Coppins has a great report on the frantic last-minute efforts by Mitt Romney’s campaign to turn an Ohio campaign rally into a “relief rally.” At the last minute, Romney sent staffers to go clean out a local Wal-Mart to display enough goods for the cameras. (Coppins doesn’t mention that donating goods rather than money is not only inefficient or even useless, but counterproductive, forcing relief organizations to divert resources to stow them.)

Of course, this is more than a bit unfair, since the handling of campaign stagecraft tells you nothing about a candidate’s merits. But the story does seem to be a perfect synecdoche for the Republican approach to social policy. The frantic obsession with appearing to help people counterposed against a total lack of concern with the substantive effect is exactly how the party has approached issues like health care, poverty, and education…

….Don’t we need some kind of plan for people who have preexisting conditions? Just grab something!

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  • rudi

    BJK posted on this yesterday. The Red Cross only want cash for the relief. Maybe Mittens can open up his own wallet…
    http://www.balloon-juice.com/2012/10/30/typical-romney/

    Does the American Red Cross accept donated goods?
    Unfortunately, due to logistical constraints the Red Cross does not accept or solicit individual donations or collections of items. Items such as collected food, used clothing and shoes must be sorted, cleaned, repackaged and transported which impedes the valuable resources of money, time, and personnel.

  • adelinesdad

    rudi,

    I didn’t see it in the Buzzfeed article. Was the food drive intended to go to the Red Cross?

    And he has made a personal, monetary donation and encouraged others to do so, for which the Red Cross has issued an appreciative, apolitical statement.

    I’m afraid I don’t see a whole lot to get upset about here. They converted a campaign event into a disaster relief event, and decided to give the disaster relief a head start by purchasing some goods ahead of time. Am I supposed to be upset that local Ohio residents got credit for all of the donations instead of it being recognized that the campaign donated some too? Or is it the confusion regarding where the donations were supposed to be dropped off that is supposed to disgust me?

    The Buzzfeed article makes it sound like they made a pretty good effort to make it apolitical, with a few things that slipped. I think that’s to be expected with a last minute change of plans. Yes, it was a good photo op I’m sure. Doing the right thing sometimes is.

    The irony is that in an article attempting to portray Romney as politicizing a disaster, I’m seeing the same thing in the other direction.

  • rudi

    The plan was for supporters to bring hurricane relief supplies to the event and then deliver the bags of canned goods, packages of diapers, and cases of water bottles to the candidate, who would be perched behind a table along with a slew of volunteers and his Ohio right-hand man, Senator Rob Portman. To complete the project and photo op, Romney would lead his crew in carrying the goods out of the gymnasium and into the Penske rental truck parked outside.

    I wonder if they kissed Mittens ring when they handed him the Grey Poupon and caviar?

    But the last-minute nature of the call for donations left some in the campaign concerned that they would end up with an empty truck. So the night before the event, campaign aides went to a local Wal-Mart and spent $5,000 on granola bars, canned food, and diapers to put on display while they waited for donations to come in, according to one staffer.

  • adelinesdad

    Sorry, rudi, my disgust meter must be busted. People can read into those sentences their own biases. (Were they worried that it would look bad, or they wouldn’t have much to give? Does it matter?)

    To clarify, I didn’t mean to say that Joe’s article specifically was politicizing the disaster, rather those trumping up the politicization charge against Romney are themselves politicizing it.

  • adelinesdad

    To answer my own question, the supplies are going to the Red Cross. In judging whether or not we should be disgusted that Romney held a drive where he collected supplies (in addition to soliciting monetary donations), I think it’s appropriate to let the organization that will be receiving those donations, being the victims of the supposed offense, have a say in the matter. Unless, as I’ve already heard argued in substance, you think the Red Cross is covering for the Romney campaign.

    http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/30/romney-on-storm-aftermath-people-are-hurting-this-morning/

    “The American Red Cross appreciates the support from the Romney campaign and is working with the campaign to process this donation of supplies,” the statement read. “We are grateful that both the Obama and Romney campaigns have also encouraged the public to send financial donations to the Red Cross. We encourage individuals who want to help to consider making a financial donation or making an appointment to give blood.”

  • rudi

    @AD
    i would be cynical if the Romney campaign passed a bucket or set up a page on their websites for cash donations. But the canned can drive is just BS. The logistics of handling cans and used close is a nightmare for a quick response iad…
    Google Andrea Mitchells take on this.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    Have to agree with you, Rudi.

    Just as staged and “photo-opped” as Ryan’s stunt of re-washing clean pots and pans at that homeless kitchen a few weeks ago

  • adelinesdad

    rudi,

    While this particular issue I think has blown over now so I’m tempted to let it rest, but I think it’s illustrative of how our biases can influence how we perceive things without realizing it. I don’t pretend to be immune, but I think it’s a useful exercise to try to examine our reactions to see if they are logical or not. Let me try to do that and see if we can reach some common ground.

    Let’s start here: Why do people do food drives at all? I think it’s probably always cheaper for a large charitable organization to purchase food and supplies in bulk rather than for individuals to buy and donate items and then for the organization to have to distribute them. I imagine almost every charitable organization would rather receive money than donated items, and a dollar donated probably goes further than a dollar of supplies donated. So, donating money is better both for the charitable organization and for the person donating. That’s why people invented money: because it’s a really efficient way of transferring resources. So then why do food drives at all? Why not just have everyone donate money all the time? Why isn’t every food drive criticized the way this one was?

    I think the answer is that not a lot of people can or will donate money. For one thing, times are tough. Money is scarce for a lot of people but almost everyone has a can or box of food in their pantry that they wouldn’t mind parting with. Food drives, therefore, take advantage of the fact that there are excess goods floating around that could be put to better use. So, although money is better, donated supplies are easier to extract and better than nothing. Secondly, I think there is a psychological reason. If someone asks me to give money, I may or may not give, and that’s usually a silent decision. No one knows if I don’t ever text that number. But if I show up to a food drive without food, I suffer a sense of shame. Therefore, people are more willing to give if they are asked to donate supplies at a specific time and place.

    So, the conclusion I reach is that any food drive should probably be accompanied by encouragement to give money as well as or instead of supplies. (And my understanding is that Romney’s drive did encourage people to text donations also, and Romney himself made a monetary donation). But, the harsh criticism of Romney’s drive doesn’t seem warranted considering this trade-off between money and supplies is something that happens all the time and people tend not to get worked up about it.

    But then there’s the criticism that *this* particular food drive was counterproductive since the Red Cross, who was apparently the intended recipient, had explicitly stated that they didn’t want donated supplies. However, that criticism falls apart when you learn that there is a Red Cross facility in the striken area that has agreed to take the items. I can only assume they wouldn’t take them if they didn’t think they’d be of some use (ie. better than nothing, which is the same standard we hold all food drives to). And the Red Cross has issued a statement expressing appreciation for the Romney campaign’s overall efforts, while encouraging more of the money and blood donations. Given that, it’s hard to justify contempt for the campaigns actions.

    Finally, I’ll address this question: Regardless of whether the food drive was productive or not, was the primary motive to be a photo op? The answer might be yes. At this stage in the campaign, cameras are going to be around no matter what the candidate does. And as long as there are cameras and reporters and supporters around, of course every moment is a photo op. A campaign would be negligent if they weren’t thinking about how a particular event was going to make their candidate look. This is particular true when the media is hypersensitive to every word a candidate says. We beat candidates over the head when they say or do something slightly off-key, but then we criticize them when they look like they are trying too hard to look good. It’s a classic case of heads-I-win-tails-you-lose.

    That’s my take.

  • CStanley

    Not surprisingly, I agree with Adelinesdad. On that last point, it’s even worse than head’s I win,tail’s you lose IMO. Let’s look at all of Romney’s options in the face of this devastating storm topping the news cycle:

    Go on with campaigning as usual, with maybe a mention of prayers for those affected.
    Response: look how callous! Campaigning while people are losing their homes and lives!

    Or, suspend campaigning with an announcement that it would be unseemly at this time. We need to focus on relief efforts, etc…
    Response: he’s pulling a McCain!

    Or, a blend of campaigning and motivating people to give to relief efforts….
    Cheap stunt! photo op!

    Say anything positive about the way things are being handled…
    Then why didn’t you ever praise Obama before? Hypocrite!

    Or anything positive about FEMA….
    So when did you stop ‘beating your wife wanting to abolish FEMA?

    Say anything critical of Obama…
    How petty and divisive at a time we should be coming together!

  • CStanley

    Close tag ?

    cs, if you’re going to use html, you have to put the code before and after the part you wish to highlight. You only put one in. I fixed it for you.

    thanks

    archangel/ dr.e

  • rudi

    Food drives are fine for independent homeless shelters and food banks. When times are tough, many can spare a few cans that fall to the back of the pantry. But this has nothing to do with the large scale relief for the victims of Sandy. A box of cans collected from a Cincinnati Cub Scouts won’t find it’s way to the East Coast, BUT BE MORE MEANINGful than Mittens BS. Mittens photo op is just like Ryan’s washing of clean dishes at a food bank.

    Mittens could have used the room for a blood drive instead of his cynical ploy of cans he purchased and then accepted from his flock.

    However, that criticism falls apart when you learn that there is a Red Cross facility in the striken area that has agreed to take the items. I can only assume they wouldn’t take them if they didn’t think they’d be of some use

    Links please.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    OR….he could just be himself

    Oooops. Which “himself”?

  • adelinesdad

    rudi,

    Googling “Hurricane Katrina food drive” yields some interesting results from around the country. Maybe they were all counterproductive too, but I don’t recall hearing them being criticized so harshly. (Wouldn’t it be scandalous if it turns out Obama participated in one!? I’m sure it would sink his campaign as MSNBC pounces.;))

    “Links please.”

    From my link above: http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/30/romney-on-storm-aftermath-people-are-hurting-this-morning/

    “Romney’s campaign told reporters that a Red Cross warehouse in New Jersey was accepting the donation, and distributed a statement they attributed to the Red Cross.”

    I’ve quoted the statement above. Of course it’s always possible they are lying about that, in which case it would be pretty easy for the Red Cross to set the record straight.

  • SteveK

    Romney’s “Photo Ops w/ audio” provide a wonderful way of documenting all of his lies.

    And guess what…


    .
    …The “People” are paying attention.

    HT: Today’s FiveThirtyEight

  • rudi

    @AD
    We go round and round.

    Here’s what I think the Romney campaign should have done.

    1)Send the can goods to a Ohio shelter. Admitting that no one knew that a simple can drive wouldn’t help the Red Cross Sandy effort.
    2) Make a CASH donation(from a Romney supporter) of equal or greater value of the food collected in Ohio.

    This would show compassion in Ohio and along the East coast.

    The whole can drive just smells.

    On a less cynical note. Ann Romney does have a heart and visited children in Columbus hospitals.
    http://www.wlwt.com/news/politics/Ann-Romney-campaigns-for-husband-in-Tri-State/-/9837768/17205870/-/wriphbz/-/index.html
    A co-workers grandson is recovering in one of those hospitals. He showed me a picture of AR and his grandson, without the media photo op. AR actually spent some time visiting the kids and their parents.

  • CStanley

    Well here’s a new twist:
    http://politicker.com/2012/11/staten-island-borough-president-dont-give-money-to-the-red-cross/

    I remember hearing similar complaints after Katrina.

  • SteveK

    I remember hearing similar complaints after Katrina

    Well Christine, you really are a true partisan.

    When I was a youngster I thought that was an admirable trait… As an ‘oldster’ let me just hope someone calls you a “Wambulance.”

    For what it’s worth, your link was titled “Staten Island Borough President: Don’t Give Money to the Red Cross” WTHeck Chris… Are you trying to sell the idea that President Obama is running the Red Cross too?

  • adelinesdad

    rudi,

    1) The Red Cross’ willingness to take the donation suggests otherwise. Of course it will take some time to transport and process the donation, but surely there will be people who will need help in the weeks and months to come as they struggle to get back on their feet. I’m not sure why we should assume those food donations will be of no use, even though we all agree that monetary donations are more useful.

    2) It was reported that Romney encouraged people to text the Red Cross donation number during the drive, and it was displayed on large screens. Of course it’s impossible to know if that effort resulting in monetary donations equal to the value of the food that was given, but I don’t see any reason to assume it wasn’t.

    As for the smell, maybe they should check the expiration dates?

    Thanks for sharing the story about Ann.