All eyes were on Ann Romney Tuesday night, as she spoke in front of a prime-time audience at the Republican National Convention. It was her highest-profile speech so far, but it won't be her last, especially if her husband, Mitt Romney, is elected president.
The transition to an inside-the-beltway lifestyle for political spouses is one Anita McBride knows well. She's a former chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush, and she directs programming about first ladies at American University. She joins WAMU host Pat Brogan from the convention in Tampa, Fla.
How well do you think Ann Romney is handling the pressures of being a political spouse?
"Actually, I think she is showing that she's a natural at being in the public eye. I think one thing for people to know about her: she ran for elected office before Mitt Romney ever did. She's comfortable being in the business of politics, which is a people business. She was a local elected official where they lived in Belmont, Mass., where they lived in the late '70s. I think it's not that she's been doing major speeches since that period of time, but she seems to have a natural gift for being on-stage and being in front of the public."
What role would you expect to see Ann Romney play in a Romney administration?
"First of all, we need to be clear, of course, she wouldn't be an official member of an administration. A First Lady has no statutory authority, no official duties, and no salary. The job is what they make of it. They're often best at it when they work on issues that they have knowledge and background in, and it adds some authenticity to the work that they do. Generall, all first ladies try and select projects that mirror or support the overall goals of an overall administration. That's generally when it works best, because they're not running their own government — they're there to support the policies of the person who was elected."
How do spouses prepare for an election and a possible transition to the White House?
"I think that is a great question, because nobody can ever prepare you for a position like this. Even Laura Bush, who had a recent example in her life of her mother-in-law who had gone through the job, it's still an adjustment to try and maintain a zone of privacy around your family life while you're living in a very public eye. And there's an expectation that you be very engaged and involved and that people want to know a lot about you. I think that's the kind of thing that she tried to demonstrate last night, a little bit about her background, her resiliency in dealing with some tough issues. I would imagine she would look to choose something that she has experienced herself and use that as a platform for the national stage to draw attention to an issue."
If you had a chance to give her a piece of advice moving forward, what would it be?
"I think I might tell her what Mrs. Bush has already told her: just be yourself. Politics is a people business; if you like people, you're going to enjoy this. It is a privilege to be out there around the country meeting people, hearing their thoughts and sharing them with the candidate. And then maybe, try not to read all the papers."
Anita McBride is executive in residence at American University's Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. WAMU is licensed to American University.