Is Mitt Romney in Self Destruct Mode?
Former governor's dismissal of the '47 percent' could be a deal breaker for his presidential hopes
Did you catch the video of Mitt Romney waxing poetic about the 47 percent of Americans he described as tax-dodging freeloaders with victim complexes?
With the media frenzy after the video's posting, it would have been hard to miss coverage of the stealthily captured clips of a May conversation Romney had with rich donors in Florida. During the talk, Romney basically wrote off almost half the country.
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for [President Barack Obama] no matter what. [They] believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”
As the story gained traction, Romney's campaign called an impromptu press conference to clarify his position.
“My campaign is about helping people take more responsibility and becoming employed again, particularly those who don’t have work,” Romney said. But he refused to dial back his earlier comments, saying only that they were "inartfullly" stated.
This isn't Romney's first gaffe. Remember when he bragged that he and wife, Ann, had never been asked to show their birth certificates; suggested undocumented immigrants had the means to “self deport;” and unflinchingly wagered $10,000 during a primary-season debate? But this latest gaffe does little to help Romney portray himself to the electorate as anything other than an out-of-touch elitist, whom voters can’t trust to extend a helping hand, should they require (ideally) temporary assistance paying their housing, food, and health care costs.
Romney’s campaign has been hitting speed bump after speed bump over the last couple of months. Even as Republicans have worked tirelessly to make the Nov. 6 election a referendum on Obama's handling of the economy, the guy they've got running to replace him seems to be doing his best to make it an election about which candidate voters can relate to most.
Four years ago, then-candidate Obama came under similar fire about elitism after making his infamous "guns and religion" comments, also made during a private dinner with rich donors:
"You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them," Obama said in remarks that also were secretly recorded. “And it's not surprising then [that residents there] get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment…as a way to explain their frustrations."
Opponents similarly accused Obama of being out-of-touch and elitist, but the then-future president may have been aided by the timing of the comments (months as opposed to weeks before the 2008 vote) and his personal history growing up as a child of modest means as opposed to a child of the privileged.
In any case, Romney's "47 percent" gaffe is just more fuel to the fire the Obama campaign has been building in hopes of incinerating Romney's presidential hopes. On Tuesday, the Obama camp jumped on Romney’s "47 percent" comments with lightning speed, releasing a Web ad of seemingly “man-on-the-street” reaction to the former governor’s remarks.
Romney's latest comments could cause his campaign to self-destruct, but whether that comes to pass will be up to the voters.
As political scientist John Sides wrote on the Monkey Cage blog: “The best case for saying that ‘gaffes matter’ is that actual voters are persuaded to change their minds because of the gaffes.”
We'll know for sure Election Night.