Hurricane Pander-y: Buzzfeed Picks Apart Mitt Romney And Paul Ryan Disaster Relief Photo-Ops

Truth be told, Republican White house hopefuls Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are in a tough spot with Hurricane Sandy. While President Obama is out doing a praiseworthy job of handling the storm, and inadvertently exposing yet another of the Romney/Ryan ticket’s policy weaknesses, what are they supposed to do, sit on their hands? Making token gestures of support for storm victims, while not seeming opportunistic, is a tiny needle to thread, and as VP candidate Paul Ryan tried it in Wisconsin, while GOP nominee Mitt Romney held a “storm relief event” in Ohio, Buzzfeed‘s Zeke Miller and McKay Coppins were there to chronicle every missed stitch.

The Romney/Ryan ticket was already in a weakened state with regard to relief work photo-ops, after Paul Ryan’s adventures in dishwashing a few weeks ago, so they already had very little room for error. Ryan’s Monday photo-op was marred slightly by artifice:

It was the second of Paul Ryan’s photo ops in his home state today where the campaign made a show of helping storm victims however they could. At the first stop in La Crosse, the vice presidential nominee thanked supporters for coming, shaking hands with some standing in front of an American flag, where minutes before, aides arranged boxes of Cheerios and cans of corn in perfect order.

In Hudson, the packing was proceeding too quickly, and the supporters wearing red “Team Wisconsin” t-shirts were given the order to slow down and then to stop to be sure there were still goods to be packed when Ryan entered.

Granted, that little bit of stagecraft, the arrangement of the food and the slowing of the packing, was a reminder of the political side-benefit of helping out, but in fairness, those were real Ryan volunteers packing real food, which then went to real people. A photo-op for Ryan seems like a fair trade-off.

Romney’s event featured a few larger missteps. The Romney campaign announced, Monday morning, that Mitt Romney would “attend a storm relief event at the James S. Trent Arena in Kettering, Ohio, where he will be joined by Richard Petty and Randy Owen,” which was actually a re-tooled “Victory Rally” that was announced Sunday. Some of McKay Coppins’ complaints seem a little, well, petty:

When reporters arrived on site ahead of the candidate, they were given press badges describing the event as a “victory rally” — a result, one aide told BuzzFeed, of the event’s last-minute repurposing. He said the badges were printed Monday morning, before the change had been announced.

That’s understandable, given the last-minute nature of the change, and it’s not as if those “victory rally” materials were handed out to attendees. But there were a few difficult-to-ignore seams showing:

…the last-minute nature of the call for donations left some in the campaign concerned that they would end up with an empty truck. So the night before the event, campaign aides went to a local Wal-Mart and spent $5,000 on granola bars, canned food, and diapers to put on display while they waited for donations to come in, according to one staffer.

…the two large projector screens near the ceiling lit up with a glossy, 10-minute biographical video about the candidate, one that debuted at the Republican National Convention. A state campaign official blamed “someone from the audiovisual team” for playing the video without the campaign’s permission.

…As supporters lined up to greet the candidate, a young volunteer in a Romney/Ryan T-shirt stood near the tables, his hands cupped around his mouth, shouting, “You need a donation to get in line!”

Empty-handed supporters pled for entrance, with one woman asking, “What if we dropped off our donations up front?”

The volunteer gestured toward a pile of groceries conveniently stacked near the candidate. “Just grab something,” he said.

Again, the result here was real supplies going to real people, but these intrusive reminders of the political trade-off give the unmistakable impression of exploitation, and the press spent the day pressing Romney about his plans to de-fund FEMA, which didn’t help. Actions speak louder than words, but neither were on Romney’s side Tuesday.

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