Why Romney’s dog story won’t go away

By John Toth

A few weeks ago I wrote a column about Mitt Romney and his dog Seamus. Since then, the dog story went viral. I wish I could claim credit for it, but you never know how these things get started.

As it has been repeated a few times, Romney in 1983 decided to take a family trip with the entire clan, including Seamus, an Irish Setter. Romney put the dog in a container on the roof of the car, where he remained for 12 hours.

Seamus cartoons started popping up everywhere. Cable news shows have regurgitated the story. Why all this fuss over a 29-year-old story?

During political season, there are no time limitations. In many voters’ minds, what a candidate did 29 years ago is as important as what he is doing today. It all blends together as voters make their decisions.

In my younger days, when I was a reporter, I was confronted by a candidate who felt that it was unfair of me to bring up an incident about him from 20 years earlier. As a private individual, the incident was inconsequential. When he filed to run for public office, it became fair game and relevant.

And, that candidate didn’t even put a dog on top of a car for 12 hours. When a dog enters the storyline, people tend to pay attention. So, not only is the story relevant because it’s Romney’s past, but the dog gives it ... legs.

Chief Obama strategist David Axelrod took advantage of the situation and Tweeted a photo of Obama and his dog Bo in the presidential limousine, with the caption: “How loving owners transport their dogs.”

That’s political gamesmanship. Those guys are playing in the big leagues and seldom miss a beat.

How a candidate treats his dog tells us a lot about his character, but in the Republican primaries there are other important characteristic traits.

It’s advantageous for a Republican candidate to be a hunter. That’s almost a must on the right, but irrelevant on the left. So, Romney, who now has to prove that he is a dog lover, is also saddled with having to prove that he can hunt like a true Republican.

For a Republican, the bigger or more dangerous the game, the better. For example, Texas Governor Rick Perry bragged about killing a coyote.

In an interview with Parade Magazine, Perry was asked whether he really killed a coyote, as he claimed. Perry responded, “Yes, ma’am. One shot right in the shoulder.”

When asked whether the coyote had died, Perry said, “Yeah, right there.” When further questioned, Perry said that while some have doubted that a coyote would be so aggressive, “I’ll show you coyotes that will come and get in your backyard and eat your little puppy.”

Even Perry knew to connect his coyote killing claim to puppies. Dogs, especially helpless little puppies, play well during campaigns if you can just connect them to the right story. Putting the family dog on the roof of a car for 12 hours is not the right story.

Romney may be able to counteract the devastating dog story with some solid hunting anecdotes. If Perry has the hunting skills to kill a coyote, maybe Romney can one-up that by claiming to have killed a … let’s say ... a bear that is about to attack a puppy.

“I’m not a big-game hunter. I’ve always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will. I began when I was 15 or so and I have hunted those kinds of varmints since then,” Romney said in 2007.

Varmints? Are you serious? How about an alligator? And what happened to the killer bear? Varmints?
At least he didn’t say that one time he stepped on a cockroach.

Whatever happened to Seamus?

Romney gave the dog to his sister, Jane Romney of California, where he lived out the rest of his life in peace. She even made him learn to like cats. I can see myself voting for someone like her.