by Benjamin J. Kirby
I've been in the communications business a long time. I have been involved in campaigns and elections for a long time, too.
Both of those things rely on your instinct to know when to take advantage of the moment -- the circumstances of which you often don't control.
But for every time you execute the skill and craft successfully around an opportunity, nearly as many times you need to know when to either do it right, or back off.
Everyone admitted at the outset that Hurricane Sandy and the awful aftermath she left behind would put Team Romney in a bit of a bind. He couldn't campaign. But everyone knows he couldn't stop campaigning, either.
So how to look like a leader in a tough moment for America?
Personally, I thought the opportunity for Romney was to sit in a Romney Campaign call center in Boston and order everyone making phone calls for campaign cash to turn around and spend the week making calls for monetary donations to the Red Cross.
He didn't do that. In fact, what he did was exactly the wrong thing to do: he did a campaign photo-op.
Buzzfeed -- who it must be noted, has been the breakout Internet star of this campaign -- has a detailed piece on how the event didn't quite go as planned for Romney:
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.
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.)
Jed Lewison at DailyKos explains why stuff isn't the best thing to donate at a time like this:
It makes for a nice visual unless you realize that it was entirely staged to support Mitt Romney's personal political ambitions. And in case you have any remaining doubts, keep in mind that the Red Cross doesn't even want the stuff that Romney was urging people to donate:Red Cross tells us grateful for Romney donation but prefer people send money or donate blood dont collect goods NOT best way to help #SandyThe problem is simply logistics: in the midst of a disaster like Hurricane Sandy, the last thing the Red Cross wants is to sort through a hodge podge of donations and figure out where things should go. But cash donations don't look as good on camera, so Romney asked for stuff that he thought would be more photogenic, even though it wasn't the best way to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy—because this event was about him, not about them.
— @mitchellreports via web
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.
The Red Cross does accept bulk quantities of product and services when these items meet our service delivery needs. These donations typically come from manufacturers, suppliers, and/or distributors that can package the items in bulk, palletize them and transport them directly to Red Cross sites. Financial contributions allow the Red Cross to purchase exactly what is needed for a disaster relief operation. Monetary donations also enable the Red Cross to purchase relief supplies close to the disaster site which avoids delays and transportation costs in getting basic necessities to disaster victims. Because the affected community has generally experienced significant economic loss, purchasing relief supplies in or close to the disaster site also helps to stimulate the weakened local economy.
Problem is, the Romney Campaign -- rightly -- doesn't think Mitt stroking a check to the Red Cross is much of a photo-op.
It gets worse, of course.
Romney's VP selection, Congressman Paul Ryan -- who has already had his brush with photo-ops gone wrong -- couldn't get to a "hurricane relief" event fast enough, and so workers were ordered to slow down their work until he got there... with the cameras in tow:
In Hudson, the packing was proceeding too quickly, and the supporters wearing red "Team Wisconsin" t-shirts were given the order to slow down and then to stop to be sure there were still goods to be packed when Ryan entered.
One by one the boxes were filled and loaded into a waiting U-Haul, and then they stopped to wait for the candidate.
This campaign has been cynical and awful and that cynicism and awfulness has spread like a fungus from one side -- the craven, opportunistic Romney/Ryan side.
Look, at this late date, none of what anyone says about this will likely change any minds. I'm just surprised the Romney/Ryan folks have been this sloppy about the whole thing. It is awful and depressing.
But not as awful and depressing as what has happened to so many folks in New Jersey, New York and the other states where Sandy had a deep impact.