Setting up the stakes for Mitt Romney and the Republican National Convention on Monday’s CBS This Morning, journalists and pundits kept insisting that the candidate had to show his touchy-feely side.
Correspondent Jan Crawford plugged a CNN poll showing how Romney is “down 35 points on the question of whether or not he understands and is in touch with problems facing women.” Soon-to-be co-host Norah O’Donnell insisted Romney has to “convince middle class voters that he cares about issues that they care about.”
And co-host Charlie Rose wanted RNC Chairman Reince Preibus to explain why Romney lags Obama when it comes to empathy: “Why do you think that in the polling it says President Obama seems to voters to care more, emphasize care — feel for where we are in terms of the economy, what it’s done to us?
The idea of judging presidents based on how well they emotionally connect with voters, as opposed to the merits of their policies or their actual performance in elective office, took off in 1992 with Bill Clinton’s campaign. On ABC’s This Week on Sunday, columnist George Will effectively scoffed: “He [Romney] can’t turn to the country and say ‘I feel your pain,’ because the pain isn’t his, it’s other peoples. What he can say is ‘I can fix your pain.’ And that should be good enough unless we’re electing a talk show host.”
But the talk show hosts in the media seem incapable of evaluating candidates on terms other than their capabilities as a talk show host, so that dominated the political discussion this morning. (Network TV being what it is, of course, the weather dominated the coverage.) Here are key excerpts from the August 27 CBS This Morning:
# Wrapping up a report from Boston:
Correspondent JAN CRAWFORD: Now showing that personal side of Romney as husband and father, a governor whose programs helped women in Massachusetts -- that’s important, because right now, some women don’t like Mitt Romney. There’s a new poll out this morning that has him down 35 points on the question of whether or not he understands and is in touch with problems facing women.
# Interviewing RNC Chairman Reince Preibus:
Host CHARLIE ROSE: Why do you think that in the polling it says President Obama seems to voters to care more, emphasize care — feel for where we are in terms of the economy, what it’s done to us?
# Political analysis from CBS’s Norah O’Donnell and John Dickerson
NORAH O’DONNELL: There are few moments in American politics where you have a captive audience, millions of Americans are watching. We have the conventions and we have the debates. Those are pivotal moments. The conventions — I think this convention is critical for him. It’s not just presenting himself to the American people, who may not have been watching the campaign that closely. But he’s got to change the dynamics of this race. Poll after poll — another poll out by the Washington Post today — shows this race is static. And there’s been some movement in the battleground states but Romney has got to change the trajectory quickly if he’s going to win the race.
CHARLIE ROSE: And you do that with a speech or you do that with what?
O’DONNELL: That’s a good question. I think he does it with a speech. He has to get, convince middle class voters that he cares about issues that they care about.
ROSE: Cares about?
O’DONNELL: Cares about. They already trust him on the economy more than they trust Barack Obama. But does Mitt Romney understand the problems that middle class Americans are facing enough so that he could solve them?
JOHN DICKERSON: It’s — trust is the key question. People can’t follow all the ins and outs of the budget and Medicare, so the question’s who — when all these things are being figured out — who is going to be on your side. When Medicare is being re-shaped, is Romney going to have your interests at heart or is Obama? When they’re in a small room carving this thing up, when the administration is in full swing, that’s the question. And so are people going to feel like, when that business of governing is going on, that the guy in charge of it has some sense of their lives, isn’t going over the line in a way that’s really going to penalize them. And that’s the argument he’s trying to get to.
ROSE: Another face here is Paul Ryan. What does he add to this ticket at this convention?
O’DONNELL: I think he adds some energy, He helps, certainly, Mitt Romney with his conservative base. But we’ve seen he’s helped a little bit in some states like Wisconsin and perhaps Ohio. But, you know, and he adds some youth and some energy to the ticket.
ROSE: In terms of the principal swing states, any change there as he comes into this convention week?
O’DONNELL: Obama largely leads in most of the swing states. However, there was a new poll out in the Columbus Dispatch over the weekend that shows in Ohio that it was very, very close. [on screen: Romney 45%, Obama 45%] And that’s certainly a state that — no Republican has won the presidency in the last century without winning Ohio — so they’ve got to win Ohio. And it looks like, if that poll is to be believed, that Romney is gaining some ground in those states, and I think most people think the race is going to break in the last three weeks of this campaign. It’s going to narrow as more of us look closely--
ROSE: Both parties agree that it will go pretty much even until the last three weeks?
DICKERSON: That’s right. And it feels like in these polls that we’re going to get down to the independents -- it’s going to be the Johnson family on Cedar street. I mean, the number of people really up for grabs is getting smaller and smaller. That’s what that Dispatch poll showed.
O’DONNELL: I think the interesting calculation is this interview that Mitt Romney gave in Politico this morning where he said, ‘I am who I am,’ you know, like Popeye, like he’s going to make people eat their spinach and love him. But he does actually, does say, ‘They don’t need to like me. They just need to trust me that I can handle the economy better than Obama.’
DICKERSON: [They’re] worried about making this look like a total reinvention, this convention here. They want it -- and also that he’s pushing against President Obama a little bit. He’s saying, ‘I’m not a celebrity. I’m just who I am.’
ROSE: Reinvention is not a word they want to use.
# Interview with pollster Frank Luntz:
FRANK LUNTZ: ...Mitt Romney has yet to make the case in terms of his own personality. The sense is that Barack Obama understands you, but can’t necessarily solve your problems. Mitt Romney can solve your problems, but he doesn’t quite understand you. And that’s what the next 70 days going to be about.
ROSE: If you’re looking for one thing coming out of this convention, what is it?
LUNTZ: That Romney understands and feels how the average American, the hard-working taxpayer feels. If he demonstrates that he gets their problems, then he’s going to get the bounce that he needs.
ROSE: But is that something that he’s shown that he can do?
LUNTZ: He publicly rejects it. He doesn’t want to be the candidate that feels. He wants to be the candidate that solves.
ROSE: So the line might be, ‘I feel, so therefore, I do.’
LUNTZ: ‘I do, because I feel.’
-- Rich Noyes is Research Director at the Media Research Center. Click here  to follow him on Twitter.