Mitt Romney got the better of an argumentative reporter during a testy exchange in South Carolina because the reporter didn’t ask the right question.
“I don’t have lobbyists running my campaign,” Romney said.
AP Reporter Glen Johnson interrupted him. “That’s not true, governor! That is not true. Ron Kaufman is a lobbyist,” Johnson said. Ron Kaufman is an old friend of Romney’s and a senior adviser to the campaign.
Johnson and Romney then got into an argument over what “running my campaign” means. I have to say, Romney is exactly right. Senior advisers aren’t running campaigns. Johnson complained that Romney was engaging in “semantics,” but semantics is about what words mean, and Romney used exactly the right words. He was right, Johnson was wrong.
While Johnson was trying to play gotcha, he missed a chance to make Romney clarify his position on lobbyist influence. Romney brought up lobbyists because McCain campaign manager Rick Davis is a former lobbyist. Romney was trying to portray himself as pure and McCain as corrupt. Johnson should have asked Romney if he was implying that McCain has been corrupted by lobbyists, and if he, Romney, would state that it is always wrong to be so close to lobbyists and pledge never to have them involved in managing any future campaign or making decisions in the White House. He should have made Romney explain why it is bad to have a former lobbyist running a campaign but OK to have a current lobbyist as a senior adviser.
Candidates too often get away with cheap shots because reporters don’t press them to explain their positions more fully.