Leave it to Ann Romney to once again extricate her husband from deep doo-doo – in this case, that of the family’s late Irish Setter, Seamus.
The story of how Mitt Romney used to prepare for road trips by putting Seamus in a crate that he strapped on the top of the family’s station wagon has, well, dogged the presumptive Republican presidential nominee since he began his White House run.
It is inevitably trotted out by his critics, and pet lovers, to suggest that Mr. Romney is somehow too cold-hearted to be entrusted with the fate of the nation.
One Seamus incident, in particular, has hounded Mr. Romney. It involves a 1983 trip to the family cottage on Lake Huron near Grand Bend, Ont., when a supposedly terrified Seamus defecated uncontrollably after riding on top of the car for hours.
As Mr. Romney’s five sons howled choruses of “gross,” their unflappable father simply pulled into a gas station, hosed down Seamus and the car, then got back behind the wheel as if nothing had happened.
According to Romney biographers Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, “it was a preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management...[T]e name Seamus would become shorthand for Romney’s coldly clinical approach to problem-solving.”
But in an ABC News interview broadcast Monday, Mr. Romney told anchor Diane Sawyer that the Seamus attacks have been the most hurtful he has experienced “so far” during his campaign for Republican nomination and White House.
Ann Romney, who has emerged as an unassailable asset humanizing her no-nonsense husband, jumped in his defence, insisting Seamus “loved” travelling al fresco.
“He would see that crate and, you know, he would, like, go crazy because he was going with us on vacation. It was to me a kinder thing to bring him along than to leave him in the kennel for two weeks,” she told Ms. Sawyer.
The dog’s diarrhea on one trip was not a result of his frayed nerves. Rather, “he ate the turkey on the counter. I mean, he had the runs,” Ms. Romney explained laughing.
Whether Ms. Romney succeeds in recasting the narrative surrounding the Seamus incident into one that helps rather than hurts her husband’s image remains to be seen.
Supporters of President Barack Obama have repeatedly used the incident to define Mr. Romney and a group of Obama fans have formed Dogs Against Romney, holding protests to express their largely feigned outrage.
In January, Mr. Obama’s top campaign strategist, David Axelrod, tweeted a photo of the President riding in his limo with First Dog, Bo, and the caption: “How loving owners transport their dogs.”
New York Times columnist Gail Collins refers to the Seamus incident practically every time she mentions Mr. Romney.
“She's trying to be funny. I get that," Dartmouth College political scientist Brendan Nyhan recently told National Public Radio. “But I do think it's representative of the way that the media focuses on trivia, things that are so inconsequential. Mitt Romney is not running for dogcatcher — he's running for president of the United States.”
Now, however, the Seamus shorthand has been complicated by Ms. Romney’s explanation. It adds a layer of nuance, making it harder to use the incident to draw neat conclusions about Mr. Romney’s character and personality. As such, Ms. Romney has done her stiff-backed husband yet another favour on the campaign trail.
As for Mr. Romney, he has permanently renounced the dog-on-roof shtick, telling ABC that he would never do it again, "certainly not with the attention it's received."
One nagging question remains, however: The Romneys have not disclosed on which side of the Canada-U.S. border Seamus left his now infamous mark on history.