Democratic consultant Hilary Rosen triggered a scorn-fest this week when she said that Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, couldn't fathom the economic issues facing women because she's "never worked a day in her life." Ann, a mother of five, quickly shot back via Twitter, reassuring Rosen that being a stay-at-home mom was "hard work," and appearing on cable news to defend women who choose not to enter the workforce. As Republicans piled on Rosen, Democrats quickly distanced themselves. While some observers have dismissed this dust-up as "a truly ridiculous Twitter war," it's emerging as a teachable moment. Here, five lessons:
1. Ann Romney is central to Mitt's campaign
The speed with which the Romney camp recruited Ann to address the Rosen flap speaks volumes about her importance in this general election. Ann is seen as a critical asset in helping her husband "close a yawning gap" between his and Obama's ability to woo women voters, say Elizabeth Williamson and Sara Murray at The Wall Street Journal. Aware of the eminently likable Ann's power, Democrats "ran for cover" as soon as she began firing back, with everyone from Obama on down coming to her defense.
2. The Romney campaign is pretty savvy…
"Politics is about opportunity and momentum," and the Romney camp deftly seized its chance to go on the offensive, says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. Instead of being a punching bag for Democrats on women's issues, Romney is now pushing "back on the 'war against women' narrative that was clearly starting to take hold." He even managed to make himself a sympathetic figure, a feat for a multi-millionaire.
3. …And pretty cynical, too
The Romney camp is already raising money off the controversy, declaring that the Obama administration has waged a "War on Moms" that is pitting Americans against each other. The problem? Rosen isn't an aide or spokesperson for Obama, as Romney's aides are suggesting, and her ties to the Democratic National Committee are informal at best. "Tying Rosen to Democrats is a matter that takes a lot of squinty effort and a willingness to indulge in" conspiracy theories, says Jason Linkins at The Huffington Post. But that won't stop Team Romney.
4. Twitter-fueled outrage will dominate 2012...
This controversy is "yet another episode in a season of outrage, real or hyped, that has dominated" the election, says Maggie Haberman at Politico. Twitter is transforming stray snippets from pundits into major flare-ups at a "steroid-fueled pace," says Igor Bobic at Talking Points Memo. Of course, journalists and political insiders "on Twitter will be onto the next mini-crisis" any second now, says Zeke Miller at BuzzFeed.
5. ...And obscure the things that really matter
This "kerfuffle" means "doodleysquat" to the election, says Linkins. "Things that people say while speaking extemporaneously on CNN panels" do not "move the needle." Remember, "CNN's pundit panels aren't even capable of generating good ratings for CNN." Yes, we really should "ignore the back-and-forth," says Jonathan Bernstein at The Washington Post, and remember what actually matters: Polls, economic news, foreign policy crises, natural disasters, and anything else that makes "a real difference in people's lives." The media needs to reassess its priorities.