Ari Shapiro, a White House corespondent and NPR journalist who covered the recent Mitt Romney Presidential Campaign of 2012, visited campus to speak in the Highlander Union Building on the evening of Monday Nov. 13, Room 302. The crowd that showed up was so large that the entire hall HUB 302 had to be utilized in order to make room for the participants. In addition to students, the event saw a large turnout from the greater UCR community, including Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge. The event was sponsored by public radio station and NPR-affiliate KVCR.
Shapiro’s ability to capture an audience quickly became clear. Charismatic, animated and humorous, Shapiro is a talented storyteller who has been celebrated as a “journalist’s journalist”. In his first public talk since the campaign, he appreciated the chance to review this recent chapter of his life and finally relay his own story about following the Mitt Romney campaign. A chance to, as he says, “stop describing the trees, and to look at the forest.”
After covering the Romney campaign for more than a year, Shapiro said that he “never really knew Romney until the cameras were off.” He defended Romney’s lack of charisma in the public eye and said that once alone with the team he saw a “different side” of Romney with “wonderful qualities that couldn’t be captured on film.” He described him as “congenial” and “able to defend his policies” in private, but “awkward and uncomfortable” once the cameras turned on.
A highlight of Shapiro’s talk was his ability to see both strengths and flaws of each candidate. Inside his critiques were jokes about both parties, and he was able to see what the candidates had in common, as well as what was different. He went on to say that the best part of the campaign was seeing the variety and diversity in America.
In Shapiro’s his past interviews addressing his position as a journalist, he said “that the point is to let people speak for themselves and let the audience make up their minds”. As a journalist, he said, his “job is to inform, not to coerce” people into making decisions about politics. Shapiro said, “America is a purple country represented in Washington [D.C.] as blue and red in groups.” He did mention however, that the deadlock in politics happens because the moderates are “being crowded out of Washington.”
Shapiro also noticed that Romney’s campaign was an uphill struggle. During what he called the “angry birds primary,” nearly every Republican candidate was catapulted to the top of the polls even momentarily, which was a significant hurdle for the Romney campaign to endure.
2010 was a successful year for the Republican Party, whose members were not in the mood to “fall in line.” Shapiro expressed how they wanted a true, red-blooded conservative—yet Romney was a Mormon governor from Massachusetts who was formerly pro-choice and pro-gay. However, the incumbent Obama had less work to do. Shapiro argued that Romney was impressive and beat a lot of odds by making it so far in this presidential race.
For Shapiro, Romney’s downfall was ultimately his inconsistency. Romney was “forced, for votes sake in the primary election, to tack far right, and then later forced to flip to a more moderate standpoint.” Thus, Romney, out of necessity, had to say whatever would win him votes in the campaign. In addition, he had a hard time attracting minority and women voters because of inconsistencies concerning the two groups’ futures.
Finally, Shapiro said that the election was the “frame in which all the stories of America were unfolding” and that America is like an example of “pointillism” artwork, in which “no one person will represent America,” but rather a series of dots that collectively make up a big picture. Moreover, he found when he interviewed people to ask the tough questions, “the most compelling things that I heard usually had nothing to do with politics.”
The night concluded with a Q&A, during which Shapiro enthusiastically provided insight, both funny and candid. He ended with provoking thoughts about the next steps for US politics. He stressed that this election would have been an important one regardless of who won, and he left the audience to ponder issues of immigration, women’s rights and particularly the immediate future of the Republican Party—all of which will show up in the upcoming future elections.