Romney’s roof-riding Irish setter

Rick Santorum is finally in the rear-view mirror and Newt Gingrich is hanging on to the bumper by his fingernails, but Mitt Romney just can’t seem to shake the Irish setter on the roof of his car.

Rick Santorum is finally in the rear-view mirror and Newt Gingrich is hanging on to the bumper by his fingernails, but Mitt Romney just can’t seem to shake the Irish setter on the roof of his car.

Almost 30 years ago, during a road trip from Boston to the family’s summer retreat in Canada, Romney was forced to make an unscheduled rest stop to hose down the car and the dog, Seamus, who’d been riding in a crate strapped to the rooftop luggage rack.

As Ann Romney patiently explained to ABC’s Diane Sawyer this week, the dog had slimed himself and the station wagon not because he was terrified of the trucks whizzing past him on the interstate but because he’d snagged some turkey off the kitchen counter before being latched in the crate for the 12-hour drive.

Talk about watchdog journalism: Romney has been hounded about the Seamus incident since 2007, when a Boston Globe reporter described it in a seven-part series on the presidential aspirant. In Romney’s second campaign, it seems everyone _ MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Time’s Mark Halperin, Fox News’ Chris Wallace _ has a bone to pick with him over the dog’s famous ride.

New York Times columnist Gail Collins admits she has “made a game” of mentioning Seamus whenever she writes about Romney. “This is because the Republican primary campaign has been an extremely long and depressing slog, and we need all the diversion we can get,” she wrote last month.

In September, the truth squad at evaluated the Seamus tale as related by Collins and rated it Mostly True.

“It’s important to note that the dog was not literally strapped to the car, as in tied around its midsection,” the fact-checkers stressed. “Rather, Seamus was in a container with a protective windscreen that Romney had built.”

The dog-on-the-roof story was offered by the Globe as evidence of Romney’s knack for “emotion-free crisis management.” Well, OK. Picking a president is all about deciding who’ll have a finger on the button for the next four years, and the last thing we need is a guy who loses his cool when the stink hits the windshield at 60 mph.

But really, was it such a good idea to put the dog up there in the first place? Sixty-eight percent of voters say no. That’s right, there’s a poll. There’s also a Super PAC, Facebook pages, Twitter hashtags and a line of merchandise that includes doggy attire emblazoned with the slogan, “I ride inside.”

The Seamus incident has been the subject of a Gingrich attack ad; a Santorum adviser described Romney on CNN as “a guy who strapped his own dog on the top of a car and went hurling down the highway”; and Obama strategist David Axelrod tweeted a photo of the First Dog, Bo, riding in the back seat of the presidential limousine.

Both Romneys insist that Seamus bounded willingly into his special crate many times.

“The dog loved it,” Ann Romney told Sawyer. We don’t doubt it. What dog doesn’t want to go for a ride?

Dogs love to hang their heads out the window and let their ears flap like flags in the breeze. They also like to eat cat poop, chase cars, swallow socks, tangle with skunks, roll in fish guts and, yes, steal stuff off the counter that makes them sick.

But this is 2012, and if you’ve rescued a pet from your local shelter lately, you know all about the background checks and the home inspection and the many promises you must make, in writing, about safeguarding your new family member’s health and well-being.

You know better than to confess to the case worker that you once, even 30 years ago, transported a dog in a rooftop kennel.

Romney’s real problem isn’t that he drove from Boston to Ontario with Seamus on the roof in 1983. It’s that he doesn’t understand what the fuss is all about today. Would he do it again?

Sawyer asked him. “Certainly not with the attention it’s received.” Grrrrr.

Will Seamus come back to bite Romney in November? The Public Policy Polling survey found that 74 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of Republicans and 66 percent of independents agree that it’s “inhumane” to travel with a dog on top of the car. But only 35 percent said they were less likely to vote for Romney as a result. That suggests there’s a subset of American voters who think Romney is more qualified to be president than to adopt a dog.

Or maybe we’re all reading too much into the Globe’s pooper scoop.

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