Mitt Romney Wants To Follow You On Twitter

The whole Romney family are social media naturals — so why can’t they connect? Is it all one big Mormon mommy blog?

Mitt and Ann Romney, in a photo posted to Mary Romney’s family blog.

Has anyone ever shared more, and yet shared less, than the Romney family?

Mitt Romney and his sons rarely get the credit they deserve for their fluency with new media: The five brothers maintained a blog in the old bloggy years of 2008. Three of them have Twitter feeds for the Social Web of 2012. One daughter-in-law, Mary Romney, even maintains a well-kept mommy blog, studded with images of a loose candidate, mussed hair and all, while her husband, Craig, blogged his way across the country in the summer of 2009. It’s the sort of humanizing touch that makes new media operatives beam with pride.

“If they’re smart and know what to say, and they seem to, it’s a good way to instantly shape perceptions of their dad,” said Patrick Ruffini, a leading Republican digital strategist.

And yet for their constant sharing, the Romneys are frustratingly inaccessible. The candidate continues to struggle for the emotional connections that would rally voters and bring in small contributions over the Internet. His family faces the constant, absurd criticism that it’s too attractive, too perfect.

Romney’s skill at projecting a Christmas-card perfection, and his difficulty in breaking out of it, are qualities rooted in the religious culture that has shaped so much of the family’s character. Mormon mothers like Mary Romney, for instance, have grown famous for the quality of their “mommy blogs,” which stand out among a sea of similar sites for their design, attention to detail, and glowing portrayal of family life.

“A lot of times, the criticism that comes to Mormon blogs is that they are too unrealistic,” said Courtney Kendrick, a Mormon mommy blog pioneer. “I think what we’re thinking is that our whole dogma is called the Plan of Happiness, and our blogs kind of reflect that drive and appeal to happiness.”

Mary Romney’s blog, Kendrick said, is a “very typical” example of the genre. Titled “Me & My Boys,” it has apparently been open to public view for years, drawing occasional interest from the political class. The blog was made private shortly after BuzzFeed asked the campaign about it, and about the Romney family’s social media presence in general.

Romney’s blog is of a kind with her generation’s happy hipster aesthetic, sharing with other Mormon mommy blogs a colorful, flowery blend of vintage lettering and cupcake photos that call to mind Zooey Deschanel — if she were a churchgoing mother of three.

Craig Romney, dressed as his dad for Halloween 2007.

Some posts chronicle sunny getaways to tropical locales, with one vacation in particular producing photos of the smiling, suntanned couple swimming with the dolphins. Others feature romantic trips to New York, like one that “included dinners, shows, friends, museums, graduation, shopping, Central Park, and tea at the Plaza. Everything a visit to the city should entail.”

Since the couple bought a house in San Diego, there has been a series of posts following various renovation projects that give Romney the chance to show off her craftiness—from wallpapering the laundry room, to installing a creative mechanism in the living room that allows her to slide a large, framed family photo in front of the TV on the wall to mask its aesthetic imperfection. The blog consists mainly of photos, separated by extended captions to provide context.

While many blogs like Romney’s manage to attract large, non-Mormon followings — a phenomenon first captured in Salon — the majority are made for friends and family to admire, not unlike a digitized, serialized holiday card. And like those annual holiday cards, they tend to adopt an aggressively rosy tone that aides in presenting the blogger’s home, family, and lifestyle as catalog-ready.

“I call it mommy porn,” said Kendrick, whose own blog is C Jane Enjoy It.

The most obvious tell, said Kendrick, is the relentless pro-family theme that ran through the pages she saw. While secular mommy blogs delve into the challenges of motherhood, LDS offerings tend to keep things upbeat, portraying family life as an unadulterated joy. Kendrick sees something theological in blogs like Romney’s, with perpetually-proselyting Mormons using them as tools to convey the blessings of their faith. “I mean, you put your kids down, and you go and read someone else’s blog whose life is like perfection… It’s almost photoshopped, but instead of a perfect body, it’s the perfect experiences.””

Joanna Brooks, a Mormon scholar and writer, called the blogs a reflection of traditional Mormon gender roles.

“In conservative Mormon culture, having large, beautiful, well-appointed families conveys a great deal of status,” Brooks said. “It’s an approved path to visibility and power for Mormon women.”

But whatever the Mormon influence on the genre, there’s also something innately political about the polished public image these blogs — like so much of social media — are designed to present.

Craig Romney, posing for a picture during a cross-country road trip with his friend. He blogged the whole trek.

Mary Romney’s blog, of course, isn’t the family’s only new media presence, though it may be the most accomplished. Her husband, Craig, chronicled a cross-country road trip in August 2009 with a blog of his own, complete with shirtless photographs. It’s zany but incessantly upbeat, even when camping in a rainstorm.

Meanwhile the Five Brothers Blog of 2008, which is still available in an online Archive, drew occasional mockery for a relentless cheerfulness that would rival any mommy blog’s. “Dad was, as usual, on top of his game last night,” Tagg Romney wrote in a typical December post.

This cycle, the blog has been replaced by the Twitter feeds maintained by Tagg, Josh, and Matt Romney, peppered with regular-guy photos and intra-family jesting:

Romney’s team appears to be aware of the power of the Mormon mommy blogosphere, whose values are mirrored in his campaign’s online presence.

Before the campaign officially kicked off last spring, Kendrick said she got a phone call from some strategists in Romney’s orbit, requesting a meeting with her and her sister, Stephanie Nielson, another LDS lifestyle blogger with a large, national audience.

“They kind of interviewed us,” Kendrick recalled. “How many blog hits do we get? What’s our political persuasion? What’s the subject and tone of our blog? If Mitt were to run again, would we be interested in maybe having Ann come to our house and show that she can change diapers?”

She said the goal, as she understood it, was to “make the Romneys look a little bit less, like, hoity-toity, and more like family people.”

Kendrick didn’t end up partnering with Team Romney — which deemed her “not conservative enough,” by her account — and it was probably for the best: she ended up becoming a Jon Huntsman fan. But she said Romney’s people eagerly “hooked on to” her younger sister’s blog, the Nie Nie Dialgoues.

It’s unclear if the Romney camp has similar arrangements with other Mormon bloggers — the campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment.

It’s little wonder the Romney camp would want to link its brand with that of Nielson, whose stylish, wholesome blog posts on homemaking and child-rearing put a modern spin on conservative “family values.”

But she also has an personal story that has made her famous well beyond the so-called “Bloggernacle.” In 2008, Nielson and her husband were nearly killed when a small, private plane that was carrying them crashed and exploded in the Arizona desert. Her readership rallied bloggers around the world to raise money for medical expenses—a viral effort that eventually earned the attention of the New York Times and Oprah Winfrey, who invited the family on her talk show in 2009.

Now, with tens of thousands of hits every day, Nielson has scattered pro-Romney posts throughout her otherwise apolitical blog. In one post dated February 24, 2011, Nielson writes about meeting the would-be candidate and his spouse at a breakfast in Provo, Utah. She affectionately refers to Romney as “Mitt the Man,” and assures her readers that “he truly wants the best for America.”

“{Just so you all know, I am going to do whatever I can do to get this man in charge},” she adds.

Other posts have her gently diffusing anti-Mormon stereotypes in the context of the 2012 race—“I don’t think us Mormon’s are that bad. Really.“—and even soliciting donations for his campaign: “If you would like to donate over $1,000 please email me directly… and I will call you back today. How exciting!!!”

The blog has yet to feature photos of Ann Romney changing diapers, as originally proposed, but Kendrick said it may only be a matter of time.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ann on there some day soon,” she said.

Romney, holding in his lap what Mormons refer to as the “quadruple combination,” a book that contains the King James Bible, the Book of Mormon, and other books of LDS scripture. The picture was taken before a family Nativity pageant.

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