Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has chosen Kid Rock’s “Born Free” as the theme song for his campaign. A Michigan native with a well-earned reputation for squareness, Romney has a few obvious tactical reasons for aligning himself with Detroit’s hard-partying native son, but he might wind up regretting his decision further down the road to the White House.
Which, in next year’s election, will inevitably run through Michigan. Romney’s roots there combined with the state’s widespread economic pain should make for a hotly contested battleground in the general election, and tapping Kid Rock nicely counters President Barack Obama’s past use of fellow Michigan native Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours.” Nor is an association with the “Cowboy” and “All Summer Long” hitmaker likely to hurt a candidate often portrayed, like Al Gore and John Kerry before him, as uncomfortable in his own skin. Plus: It’s called “Born Free,” and it sounds like heartland rock’n’roller Bob Seger. So, good going on that score, Mitt!
But. Of course there’s a but. Despite Kid Rock’s longstanding support for GOP causes, including a performance at a Republican National Convention-related event, the choice of a guy who once had a video-taped threesome with Creed singer Scott Stapp might not, believe it or not, be without its potential downsides. In fact, like trying to help uninsured sick people, Kid Rock could come back to haunt the former Massachusetts governor. Here’s why (and we won’t even bring up “Bawitdaba”):
• Kid Rock didn’t endorse the last Republican presidential nominee. Republican candidates tend to have a tough time picking out tunes for their public appearances. In the 2008 election cycle, John McCain got assailed by the Foo Fighters, Heart, and John Mellencamp for unauthorized use of their songs. Jackson Browne went so far as to file a lawsuit. Now, Kid Rock’s well-documented backing for former President George W. Bush might seem to make him a safe choice. But here’s the thing: Kid Rock sat out the last presidential campaign without endorsing anybody. Dude is unpredictable. Who knows what he might say this time to embarrass Romney?
• Kid Rock has said nice things about President Obama. There’s nothing GOP primary voters hate more than consorting with the enemy, which in this case means not terrorists or Saddam Hussein but Barack Hussein Obama. Long-shot candidate John Huntsman has already been forced to back away from his previous agreement with Democrats that scientists are probably right about global warming. After Obama’s victory in 2008, Rock said: “I’m patriotic so I’m just happy the people’s voice has been heard. I will support him until I have reason not to.” He added that the election was “a great thing for black people … It’s good the U.S. has proved it’s not as racist as it’s sometimes portrayed.”
• Kid Rock performed at Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Another case of fraternizing with people Republican primary voters hate (unless they don’t realize Colbert is joking). Way back in the 2010 mid-term election season, when conservative then-FOX News host Glenn Beck held a rally in Washington, D.C., Kid Rock wasn’t there. What rally did he attend? The event held by Comedy Central duo Stewart and Colbert. Where he performed along with outspoken Obama supporter Sheryl Crow.
• Kid Rock’s lyrics have turned conspicuously 99 Percent-y. At the Rally to Restore Sanity, Kid Rock performed “Care,” a Martina McBride- and T.I.-assisted track from last year’s Born Free album. The message, it appears, is that Americans need to find a non-partisan way to help people who are hurting — see also Fleet Foxes’ “Helplessness Blues” or John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change” (but not any recent speech by current Republican presidential frontrunner Newt Gingrich). Sample lyrics: “‘Cause I can’t stop the war / Shelter homeless, feed the poor …. I can’t change the world and make things fair / The least that I can do is care.” In its lack of specificity, the song appears to predict the Occupy movement more than Republican-aligned Tea Party movement.
• Two words: Tim Pawlenty. If any name in the GOP presidential primary race is associated with absolute futility, it’s that of former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who sought to position himself as a centrist, non-Romney choice but wound up pleasing nobody and quitting after Michele Bachmann won Iowa’s Ames Straw Poll. And he already rubbed his stench of failure all over Kid Rock’s “Born Free,” Romney’s now-official campaign song. As Salon’s Alex Pareene reports, Pawlenty walked out to the song at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. As Pareene also rightly notes, M.I.A.’s “Born Free” would be a way better choice.
On the plus side, at least Romney hasn’t yet shown any interest in Kid Rock’s cover of “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” There are some images we don’t need. Romney and Scott Stapp in the same room is one of them. (OK, we lied about not bringing that up again.)