Alan Fisher - Journalist

Personal website of Al Jazeera English journalist, Alan Fisher

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Struggling with the Symbolism

Posted on February 15, 2012 at 4:25 PM

Political symbolism is important. It’s why US politicians are frequently pictured in front of a flag. It’s why the faces in the crowd at rallies are always mixed. It’s why Mitt Romney ditched his suit jackets of four years ago when he was campaigning for President and now bounds onto the stage in check shirts and chinos or jeans. It’s all about making the multi-millionaire ‘more normal’, more like the people he needs to elect him President.

The other Republican candidates do it too. Ron Paul, the oldest man in the race, packs his rally with young people to reflect his appeal to a different generation. Newt Gingrich is more often than not pictured in a suit and a tie. It may be because he looks odd in casual clothes – a bit like seeing one of your teachers at the weekend – but it is more to carry the air of gravitas, to emphasis his belief he is the smartest man in the race.

Donald Trump knows a bit about symbolism. His campaign last summer questioning whether Barack Obama could produce a birth certificate to prove he was born in Hawaii was replete with it. Despite the rumours having being checked out and discredited, Trump continued to reproduce wild internet conspiracies and misguided theories to question if the President of the United States was actually ‘one of us’ and eligible to take the position. Trump – who was considering a run for the Republican nomination at the time continued his onslaught for months, called the President’s citizenship ‘ a scam’ and denied allegations he raised the question because Obama was black. However, his support from right wing Republicans soared during the controversy, which only ended when the actual birth certificate was published online.

And so now facing the longest break in the nominating process, the Romney campaign is questioning the symbolism of the high profile endorsement it secured just a few days before it lost three important contests.

Nevada was a state expected to be a banker for the former Massachusetts governor. It has a large Mormon population. He has campaigned there regularly and was well funded and well organized. Coming off a significant victory in Florida, he could expect to do very well.

And then, surprisingly, he announced he’d secured the endorsement of Donald Trump. The pair seemed such unlikely bedfellows. But voters were treated to the billionaire – known also as The Donald - politically embracing the millionaire who had just hours earlier in a TV interview said ‘he didn’t care about poor people’ (because they had a safety net). Romney - the man who has fought throughout the campaign against the accusations that he made his millions by taking over companies and sacking workers was now standing next to the businessman who is most famous in America for his starring role in the reality TV show Apprentice and uses the catch phrase of ‘You’re fired’.

The Democrats couldn’t resist and issued an instant web ad with the tag line ‘ They both like firing people’. And it underlined the argument – put forward by his rivals – that Romney was the chosen candidate of the moneyed Republican establishment rather than the rank and file party members.

It was a stunning miscalculation from a campaign that has successfully followed every win with a gaffe or mistake that causes real damage.

Mitt Romney won in Nevada. But it’d didn’t propel him to even greater success. He surprisingly lost the next three contests. Perhaps not all because of the endorsement of Donald Trump. However, the losses were deeply symbolic of a campaign in trouble, unable to find a groove and unable to consistently connect with voters.

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