Governor Bill Haslam, addressing a pro-Roimney rally in Memphis Thursday night, was his usual genial, upbeat self. Early in his remarks, he said,: “: I’m not somebody who’s a president basher. A lot of Republicans think our job is to tear down the president. Actually, I don’t think that. I talked to the president today. He called me about some storms in middle Tennessee. We had three fatalities, and he called me and made sure FEMA was doing everything they should....When he called me, I was actually visiting one of our prisons in southeast Tennessee. He said, ‘Governor, did I interrupt you? Where did I catch you?’’I said, ‘I’m in prison.’”
And, even though the last of the GOP presidential debates occurred two weeks ago in Arizona, a debate of sorts broke out between the governor and his director of economic development, Bill Hagerty.
Question: What did all of that mean? That the media made the race close in Michigan, and the relative absence of media in Arizona gave Romney an easy win there? That Romney's own actions, measured against those of his opponents, had not been a factor? That, for example, Romney's brain-teaser about loving "the height" of Michigan's trees had no bearing on voters' sense of the man?
Asked about that, Haslam would say,: “When you’re in our shoes, you’re always wishing the media would have a different spin on things, but I honestly think it’s a case of Romney’s having to win this the hard way….I’m one of those who thinks that’s not necessarily a bad thing….I think a tough primary can be a real proving ground….I do think the media loves a race. I think there’s times they want to see the underdog come up."
Fair enough. The media go to where the contests are (in this case, following the pols and the polls to Michigan, which was known to be a razor-close affair, despite being Romney's home state) and report what happens. And yes, they look for ways to keep the story fresh.
But the facts are still the facts, and it's easy to argue that Santorum lost his previous ten-point lead and the Michigan primary because of media reportage of the ex-Pennsylvania senator's horrendous fluffs of the previous week — beginning with his invoking Satan as some sort of omnipresent opposition ward heeler and continuing through insulting remarks about JFK's causing him to barf and concluding with Santorum's disparaging of the venerable American dream of achieving a college education.
Which is to say, the media may have helped Romney,not hurt him, just by doing their job.
And, surely, with a pair of polls showing Santorum owning a two-to-one edge over Romney in Tennessee, Romney has been risking a serious defeat in Tennessee by not being here while both his GOP rivals -- Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- have been (twice each.)
Maybe it's that fact, and not the mischief-making of the media, that should be blamed if the absent Romney can't make a race of it with his rivals in Tennessee. Oh, but the media have reported on Romney's absence, so maybe the media are to blame after all, for letting the cat out of the bag.