GILBERT, South Carolina -- Speaking at a press conference after a wet rally here Friday, Mitt Romney was given a chance tear into the "lamestream media" with Gingrich-like tenacity--and he passed.
"I don't have complaints about the media," he said plainly, adding, "I respect the fact that you guys are out here in the rain with me and [Governor Haley], and doing the best job you can."
The placid response stood in sharp contrast with the vehement anti-press sermon with which Newt Gingrich opened Thursday night's debate. Asked about allegations from his ex-wife that he once asked for an open marriage, Gingrich drew an uproarious reaction from the Republican audience with a tirade against CNN, and the news media in general.
"To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question for a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine," he said, adding, "My two daughters wrote the head of ABC and made the point that [the interview] was wrong, that they should pull it, and I am frankly astounded that CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate.”
But while Gingrich's anti-press red meat has always been popular among conservatives, Romney could only muster the faintest hint of disapproval Friday.
"I can't imagine anyone that ever thinks the stories being written about them are the way they would write them themselves," he offered. But overall, he just asked that "get it out there straight and make sure you spell my name right."
This is, at least partially, a political calculation. As Romney continues to play the role of the above-the-fray frontrunner with an eye toward the general election, his strategists have likely determined that railing against journalists won't look "presidential." Besides, he's unlikely to do it better than Gingrich, and if he tried, it could be interpreted as more pandering.
But the approach also speaks to Romney's general attitude of deference toward traditional institutions of power, and authority figures. As BuzzFeed reported last week, Romney has consciously refrained from casting the President as anything other than incompetent--while some of his rivals accuse him of more sinister motives.
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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