Gail Collins: I Was Wrong About Mitt Romney—and His Dog

From a New York Times story headlined “I Was Wrong: Eight Times opinion columnists revisit their incorrect predictions and bad advice—and reflect on why they changed their minds”

Gail Collins remembers her column titled “I Was Wrong About Mitt Romney (and His Dog)”

I’ve been thinking about columns I’ve come to regret over the years. Lots of potential there. But let me go back to Mitt Romney.

When Romney was running for president, I tried to see how many times I could find a way to mention that the candidate once drove to Canada with a dog named Seamus strapped to the roof of his car.

The result was sort of epic. People wound up counting and I used the story more than 80 times.

In my defense, I was supposed to be writing diverting columns about the 2012 presidential race, which featured Romney versus then-incumbent Barack Obama. Romney had gotten national attention as the Massachusetts moderate who pushed through a breakthrough state public health care plan that became a prelude to Obamacare, but he suddenly lost interest in that kind of thing and began referring to himself as “a severely conservative Republican governor.”

This will give you an idea of both his politics and his verbal dexterity. Those of us who were around then also won’t forget his claim that as governor he pressed for more sexual balance in staff hiring and got himself “binders full of women.

Anyhow, those little breaks were few and far between. The campaign was extremely boring, and I really did have to stretch to find some fun ways to approach it. Obama was deeply, deeply offended when I hunted down an old Chicago associate who revealed he was a mediocre poker player.

But Romney was the real challenge. The story about the dog on the roof came from a Boston Globe profile in which his son told a reporter about the time their pet pooped from his perch and messed up the car’s rear window.

It was supposed to be an example of Romney’s sense of organization. Got that car and dog hosed down at a nearby service station.

I’d probably have stopped mentioning it if Romney, when asked about the story, had said something like: “Yeah, it was back when my sons were little — nobody could possibly drive from Massachusetts to Canada with five boys and an Irish setter hopping around the back. And you know, he was in a really safe crate

But no, he just bristled and retorted, “The dog likes fresh air.”

The campaign progressed. And I was getting kind of desperate. I’m sure you’ve long since blocked it out of your memory banks, but Romney was a truly sleep-inducing candidate. It was sort of a high point when he mentioned that he cared desperately about “Americans” except, um, not “the very poor.”

This was after a big primary win in Florida when he added that “there’s no question it’s not good being poor.”

OK, that was a very long time ago. Since then, Donald Trump got elected president and those of us who make fun of politicians for a living moved into a land of perpetual opportunity. During which I got to point out nine million times that in an earlier stage of his career, Trump had sent me a copy of one of my columns, scribbling “a dog with the face of a pig” next to my picture and also managing to misspell the word “too.”

He’s not president now, of course, but Trump is running still, claiming the election was stolen, dancing a happy dance for the N.R.A. conventioneers, bragging that on his watch Putin “would never, ever have gone into Ukraine.” Romney is now in the Senate, where he was the only Republican who voted to remove Trump from office during both of his impeachments and, recently, was the only Republican to vote against repealing Joe Biden’s mask mandate.

He also, of course, supports Mitch McConnell and his party’s agenda. If you don’t agree with that, it’s hard to get all that nostalgic about what might have been. But the one lesson I take away from my Seamus period is that there are some things that are way worse than boring.

Gail Collins is an Op-Ed columnist and a former member of the editorial board, and was the first woman to serve as the Times editorial page editor, from 2001 to 2007.

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