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Beyond Thurston Howell: Media Caricatures of Mitt Romney

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The Republican presidential nominee has been linked to rich cartoon characters like Scrooge McDuck, Mr. Burns, and Richie Rich as well as wealthy, villainous silver screen icons like Gordon Gekko and Mr. Potter

mittromney12.jpgFor a politician who many critics have charged to be too stiff and boring, Mitt Romney nonetheless finds a way to inspire many in the media to make colorful comparisons of the 2012 GOP presidential nominee to some very dynamic fictional characters.

The New York Times' David Brooks, who had previously called Romney Richie Rich, wrote a buzzworthy critique of the Republican presidential nominee on Tuesday comparing him to Thurston Howell - the out of touch millionaire from Gilligan's Island.

POLITICO subsequently detailed how Brooks' column was not the first time Romney had been dubbed "Thurston Howell" by the media.

In fact, a Smart Politics review of broadcast media coverage of the 2012 campaign finds Romney has been accused of being several wealthy fictional characters, from cartoons and comic strips (Scrooge McDuck, Richie Rich, Mr. Burns, Daddy Warbucks), classic British literature (Ebenezer Scrooge), film (Mr. Potter, Gordon Gekko), and even a board game (The Monopoly Man).

Not all such characters are antagonists, but every one of them is rich and a few are buffoons who inevitably get their comeuppance - a fate no doubt some journalists with a left-leaning perspective are aching to see Romney receive.

All of the major cable networks engaged in associating Romney with these fictional characters, although the majority of such coverage took place on MSNBC.

Here are a few such colorful examples:

The Monopoly Man

"Today, Willard Mitt Romney came to New York, and Mr. Monopoly man managed to hit all of the big banks hot spots." - Al Sharpton (MSNBC, December 14, 2011)

"And you know, I think one wants to look deep at Mitt Romney and think of him as the monopoly man and not because he, himself, has bags of money and elevators for cars and the like. But because his policies would give tremendous tax breaks to the people who do play real life monopoly and often put their interest ahead of the interests of America." - David Corn (MSNBC, April 19, 2012)

"Mitt Romney'll be one of the richest men ever to run for office...That's an opportunity for the Democrats to paint the spokesperson for the Republican Party as Mr. Monopoly man without the cane and hat." - Tom Switzer (Australian Broadcast Company, January 25, 2012)

Scrooge McDuck

"Mitt Romney is Scrooge McDuck. That is going to be the message Barack Obama runs on." - Will Cain (CNN, July 9, 2012)

"But this is such a weird narrative that size matters. That I have more money than you have, which makes me more successful. I mean, both of these guys, Trump and Mitt Romney, were born into insane wealth. Is that the narrative that either of them want to run for president on? Why don't we just elect Scrooge McDuck?" - Pete Dominick (CNN, April 18, 2011)

Gordon Gekko (Wall Street)

"And they're going after this guy like a Gordon Gekko. They nailed him. They have taken away his greatest bragging point. I created jobs, they said, oh, no, oh, no, you're a chop shop runner. You run a chop shop. And you're the enemy." - Chris Matthews (MSNBC, January 9, 2012)

"They also say he's a Gordon Gekko-type character from the movie "Wall Street." He's out to screw you out of your job. Romney made lots of money as a venture capitalist partly by buying up companies and eliminating jobs." - Chris Matthews (MSNBC, August 9, 2011)

"Suppose they make him Gordon Gekko? Suppose they say, He's one of the pigs on Wall Street, one of the big investment bankers, one of the equity people, who's been making tons of money through lobbying in Washington and keeping their taxes from having to be paid." - Chris Matthews (MSNBC, October 11, 2011)

"Well, I think they do two things. One, they try to paint him as the takeover artist like Gordon Gekko on Wall Street, and they also try to present him as somebody who has had one too many political epiphanies in his life." - David Gregory (NBC, October 14, 2011)

"I mean, Mitt Romney is not offering right now a great division that contrasts with what President Obama is offering. And look, they're going to try to make him into Gordon Gekko before this is over as a rich guy who has no -- he's out of the touch with the public." - Paul Gigot (Fox, December 11, 2011)

Mr. Potter (It's a Wonderful Life)

"I think that Romney wants to say he's George Bailey and the Obama campaign is going to argue that he's Mr. Potter." - Ed Schultz (MSNBC, May 22, 2012)

"I have never -- I don't think I've ever seen a candidate close a campaign as badly as Mitt Romney has, and he really seems to have a tin ear on this. I've been trying to think what else could go wrong, that he's going to go out there and say he roots for Mr. Potter over George Bailey, bad banker over the good banker in "It's A Wonderful Life"?" - E.J. Dionne (MSNBC, January 19, 2012)

"Well, I think we just heard from Mr. Potter in "It's a Wonderful Life" there, Bob Shrum, the bank owner. I mean, in other words, foreclose on the poor people, take away their houses, and start renting the people who are desperate enough to just rent a house. I mean, this Mr. Potter right out of it; Lionel Barrymore there talking." - Chris Matthews, after playing a Mitt Romney video clip (MSNBC, October 18, 2011)

Ebenezer Scrooge

"And I find that be a position that allows Obama not just to contrast himself against Romney, as Romney being the Scrooge, but also being someone who seems woefully out of touch with what's going on in what, again, he calls the real economy." - John Heilemann (MSNBC, October 24, 2011)

"And ultimately, he doesn't come across as an Ebenezer Scrooge. He comes across as a guy with a clear plan. I like this candidate because he is smooth, he is steady. He doesn't get rattled too easily. That is how you weather the storm of these political attacks." - Terry Holt (CNN, December 26, 2011)

Richie Rich

"I think it's hard to portray him as an unfeeling, corporate rich guy. He had a sort of Richie Rich image that came out of a lot of the ads run against him. And I do think he has overcome that to a significant degree." - David Brooks (PBS, Newshour, August 31, 2012)

"Leading off tonight: Richie Rich for president? If there's one big takeaway from President Obama's big tax announcement it's that he's trying to frame Mitt Romney as Richie Rich." - Chris Matthews (MSNBC, Hardball, July 10, 2012)

"Mitt Romney needs an image makeover, don't you think? He's becoming the cartoon character Richie Rich." - Chris Matthews (MSNBC, March 29, 2012)

"Mitt Romney is Richie Rich." - Rachel Maddow (MSNBC, March 15, 2012)

"However, you now have the frontrunner, Mitt Romney, who has been shown to have this issue, the money issue, the Richie Rich issue." - Eugene Robinson (MSNBC, January 20, 2012)

"Well, Romney is like Richie Rich - spent all that money only to help Rick Santorum have a bump but not Mitt Romney." - Margaret Carlson (Bloomberg News, December 30, 2011)

Mr. Burns (The Simpsons)

"This is a brilliant move by Mitt Romney, this is his attempt to move from being Montgomery Burns to sort of Ned Flanders you know, he's not the evil business guy, he's the nice neighbor." - Jason Johnson, chief political correspondent at Politic365.com (CNN, May 24, 2012)

"It sounded like Rick Santorum was referring to Mitt Romney as Mr. Burns, the villain from "The Simpsons" who once said release the hounds. That's because in the race for the GOP alpha dog, the fangs are out." - Jim Acosta (CNN, February 9, 2012)

Sometimes, however, media commentators and hosts cannot settle on just one fictional character with whom they believe Romney resembles.

Composites

"Well, you know, I mean, they are literally painting him like, you know, Scrooge McDuck or the monopoly man. I mean, he's looking like a parody. I suspect what's good for Romney is they don't have long to do this because he's looking so strong." - Dana Milbank (MSNBC, Hardball, January 10, 2012)

"He took a lot of incoming fire during the primary season from fellow Republicans, who went after him on the Bain Capital issue and on -- on the general sort of Richie Rich or Scrooge McDuck issue about Romney and his lifestyle. And I think some of that probably stuck and remains in people's memories." - Eugene Robinson (MSNBC, June 20, 2012)

"But who is he? Who is -- is he a good guy? Is he a guy that's going to look out for the country? Is he going to be a cold business guy...some Scrooge? Some Mr. Potter?" - Chris Matthews (MSNBC, May 15, 2012)

"There is a deeper problem for Romney," you write. "He seems a figure from the Great Depression, a combination of Daddy Warbucks and Old Man Potter." - Wolf Blitzer, to Joe Klein (CNN, April 5, 2012)

And how does Romney account for these characterizations - particularly those levied by the president and his campaign? Here is his answer in a FOX News interview from December 18, 2011:

CHRIS WALLACE: What if President Obama goes after you as Gordon Gekko, greed is good?

MITT ROMNEY: Of course he will, in part because he's been the great divider. This is a president who goes after anybody who is successful.

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3 Comments


  • In the end it will be Willard Milton Romney’s own words that that will bring down his seven year run for the presidency. Thank you Romney for speaking your real mind, sure its ugly but it just confirms my feeling that you act more like a Corporation than a person who would show compassion when he realizes that a majority of my country is suffering. But hey, the empty chair was a great bit, thanks for the laughs.

  • Ah, yes, the cartoon caricature. Mitt has been compared to these cartoons while my President has been called a Muslim, a terrorist, a Socialist, a Kenyan, and many more NEGATIVE images, but you whine because Mitt has been called several names that he really is....lol..lol..lol..lol...this article is too funny. I guess this must be a rich white man thing.

  • Romney is a man not only out of touch and tone deaf to the middle class, he's astoundingly ignorant of basic demographic facts. When asked who he thought the middle class was he stated they are they are those who earn between 200 to $250,000. How can we seriously take him to be presidential material?

  • Leave a comment


    Remains of the Data

    No Free Passes: States With 2 Major Party Candidates in Every US House Race

    Indiana has now placed candidates from both major parties on the ballot in a nation-best 189 consecutive U.S. House races, with New Hampshire, Minnesota, Idaho, and Montana also north of 100 in a row.

    Political Crumbs

    Gubernatorial Highs and Lows

    Two sitting governors currently hold the record for the highest gubernatorial vote ever received in their respective states by a non-incumbent: Republican Matt Mead of Wyoming (65.7 percent in 2010) and outgoing GOPer Dave Heineman of Nebraska (73.4 percent in 2006). Republican Gary Herbert of Utah had not previously won a gubernatorial contest when he notched a state record 64.1 percent for his first victory in 2010, but was an incumbent at the time after ascending to the position in 2009 after the early departure of Jon Huntsman. Meanwhile, two sitting governors hold the record in their states for the lowest mark ever recorded by a winning gubernatorial candidate (incumbent or otherwise): independent-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (36.1 percent in 2010) and Democrat Terry McAuliffe of Virginia (47.8 percent in 2013).


    An Idaho Six Pack

    Two-term Idaho Republican Governor Butch Otter only polled at 39 percent in a recent PPP survey of the state's 2014 race - just four points ahead of Democratic businessman A.J. Balukoff. Otter's low numbers reflect his own struggles as a candidate (witness his weak primary win against State Senator Russ Fulcher) combined with the opportunity for disgruntled Idahoans to cast their votes for one of four third party and independent candidates, who collectively received the support of 12 percent of likely voters: Libertarian John Bujak, the Constitution Party's Steve Pankey, and independents Jill Humble and Pro-Life (aka Marvin Richardson). The six candidate options in a gubernatorial race sets an all-time record in the Gem State across the 46 elections conducted since statehood. The previous high water mark of five candidates was reached in seven previous cycles: 1902, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1914, 1966, and 2010.


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