Photo's afterlife leaves Romney rueing the day he flashed the cash

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

But the presidential contender is far from the first to count the cost of an unfortunate image

It is a photo of six corporate raiders, grinning and brandishing dollar bills to underline the success of their company. And none is preppier, more handsome and more delighting in his trade than the man the middle – who just happens, 20 years later, to be front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.

Political candidacies in the US are defined by many things: words, personality and money. Perhaps above all, however, they are defined by images. This picture of Mitt Romney at the helm of private equity firm Bain Capital could sum up a man making his pitch based on his record as a super-competent executive: the man who rescued the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics; who was a well-regarded governor of Massachusetts.

Alas, the photo might suggest another Romney, the master of the leveraged buyout and dark financial arts, that made a few people like himself extremely rich, but cost the jobs of thousands of people employed at companies acquired by such techniques. Were this to happen, the moment could scarcely be worse.

On the Tea party right as well as the Democratic left, disgust at high finance and its cosy links with government grows by the day. The protest movement "Occupy Wall Street" is catching the national imagination; just this week a hedge fund king was handed a record jail sentence for insider trading. Could Mitt Romney morph into a latter-day Gordon Gekko, at a time when greed is most definitely not good? The answer is: probably not.

Yes, a photo can have a devastating effect on a presidential campaign. Exhibit A is probably the shot of Michael Dukakis, the Democrats' 1988 candidate, grinning from beneath a helmet, inside a battle tank. It was meant to show support for the military. It managed only to look ridiculous, b oosting Republican claims that a Democrat could not be trusted with national security.

Dukakis atop the tank has entered the chamber of horrors of American political lore. Ronald Reagan's pollster, Richard Wirthlin, later described it as "one of the classic political blunders. You can't stretch the candidate. You've got to portray who he naturally is."

In truth, though, that can also prove dangerous– as evidenced by a strong contender for Exhibit B in the gallery of unfortunate photos. In 2004, John Kerry played the populist in a bid to unseat that child of privilege, George W Bush.

Yet an image of Kerry windsurfing off the exclusive resort of Nantucket reminded people that this champion of the working man was (thanks to his wife Teresa, heiress to the Heinz grocery fortune) the richest man in the Senate.

The Romney picture hardly meets these standards. It is not new. He left Bain in 1999, a dozen years ago, and the picture probably was taken well before then, and first published in 2007. The ones that really wound are contemporary – the Dukakis photo in 1988, the Kerry windsurfing shot from 2004.

This is not to say he is immune. A new photo that nails Mr Romney's vicar of Bray-like ideological slipperiness could become the emblem of his campaign.

But even "flip flopping", one suspects, is not the Republican front-runner's greatest vulnerability. How about a juicy photo of Mitt in Mormon garments, girded up to engage in a"cult" ritual? In God-fearing Republican America, that may turn the primary campaign on its head.

Snapped: Pictures they lived to regret

1. Mitt Romney

When Mitt Romney and his colleagues at Bain Capital had taken the company brochure picture, they decided it might be fun to take another – and posed brandishing $10 and $20 bills. Romney himself, grinning broadly, is pictured with a note poking out of his suit jacket. The picture was dug up by the Boston Globe in 2008, when Romney last ran for the presidency; now it has been revived by Gawker.

2. David Miliband

David Miliband's Labour leadership ambitions hit an early snag when he was widely mocked for an ill-advised photo opportunity with a banana at the 2009 party conference.

3. John McCain

Snapped leaving the stage after the final debate in the 2008 US Presidential elections. "Zombie McCain" became an online sensation.

4. Michael Dukakis

An attempt to prove his bravado backfired when the photo of Democratic hopeful Michael Dukakis in a tank was made into an ad ridiculing him as soft on defence during the '88 presidential campaign

5. William Hague

What started as a publicity stunt to promote a more youthful image of the Conservative Party ended in ridicule: the Daily Mail said the leader "looked like a child-molester on a day-release scheme".

6. David Cameron

The owner of the famous Bullingdon Club photo may have withdrawn publishing rights, but the notorious 1986 image of the Prime Minister and Boris Johnson posturing alongside other Bullingdon members has irrevocably tied the party to the elitist Eton dining club.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there