You’ve heard about Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill”? Mitt Romney may have handed Barack Obama a presidential race on a glittering silver platter at a press conference.
Did Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney quickly called press conference aimed at stemming quick political bleeding from a leaked secret video of him talking to supporters at a fundraiser hand Barack Obama an issue on a silver platter? And is the issue potentially so bad for Romney’s already vulnerable image that the press conference did more harm than good? Perhaps fatal political harm?
The sudden political crisis that engulfed Republican Mitt Romney over secret videos recorded while he was talking privately at a fundraiser and proclaimed that 47 percent of the American people will vote for Obama and are dependent on the government has had two immediate, swift negative fallouts:
1. Romney gave a press conference that is likely to have made his situation worse. He doubled down on what many (including thoughtful conservatives who are not lockstep political partisans defending him no matter what) think was a damaging statement to make. In essence he said, yeah, it was inelegantly stated but his statement was not wrong. He did not use the word “deadbeats” or “moochers” when the secret tape showed him dissing 47% of the American electorate, but many will take it that way.
And if they don’t, the Democrats will help them to see it that way. Democratic ad production companies must be drooling.
ROMNEY’s PROBLEM: this clip will now be shown over and over along with snippets of the video. And Mother Jone’s David Corn says MORE tape will be released tomorrow.
Watch his hastily called “press availability” at 10:30 pm EST and see what you think. To be sure, Rush and Sean and some of Romney’s stanchest new and old media supporters will try and spin it.
But if Romney loses — particularly if he loses big — this could be the tape that will be played for years. Romney didn’t look happy, looked like a kid trying to explain why he broke his mother’s expensive vase and — big mistake — after a short press availability walked away from the podium while there were more questions. Yes, President’s do, too. But this left the impression that he was forced to say something so he did.
Romney stood by his remarks. Which will be part of the story. And he has said he hopes the entire tape will be released. So look for a lot more of it to surface.
The press conference won’t play well in terms of imagery. Just look at this initial report on the Washington Post’s blog:
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney did not back down from comments published Monday in Mother Jones magazine, in which he dismissed supporters of President Obama as a “victims” who take no responsibility for their livelihoods and who think they are entitled to government handouts.
“It’s not elegantly stated…I’m speaking off the cuff in response to a question,” Romney told reporters Monday night in Costa Mesa, Calif.
Asked what assurances he could give to voters that he doesn’t say different things behind closed doors to his donors than he does at his public rallies, Romney said he gives “the same message” to all audiences.
“We have a very different approach, the president and I, between a government dominated society and a society driven by free people pursuing their dreams,” Romney said.
In the video, he said, he was “talking about the process of campaigns.”
“Typically I don’t talk about process in speeches because I think candidates are wiser to talk about policy and their vision than to talk about how they’re going to win a election,” Romney said. “At a fundraiser you have people say. ‘Governor how are you going to win this?’ And so I respond, ‘Well, the president has his group I have my group. I want to keep my team strong and motivated and I want to get those people in the middle.’ That’s something which fundraising people who are parting with their monies are very interested in knowing can you win or not and that’s what this was addressing.”
When a reporter asked what Romney meant by the words “victims” and “personal responsibility,” Romney said that he was “talking about the political process of drawing people into my own campaign.”
Romney’s comments about the need to communicate certain things to people from whom a candidate is seeking money is correct and logical.
But it will be used against him — but won’t be as damaging as his general demeanor which was far from confident and in control. He looked like he couldn’t get out of there fast enough — which he most assuredly tried to do at the end.
2. An almost stunning example of political sports team support partisanship. I’ve noted often how in our mega-partisanship atmosphere no matter what a candidate says a good chunk of his or her political sports team will stick by it. So now we are already seeing some conservative Republicans virtually write off the 47 percent of Americans not just in terms of making an effort to bring them on board but writing them totally off and cheering Romney’s assertions on.
More than ever, it has become “us” against “them.”
Not “us” against another part of “us.’
And when in American history have we had a Presidential candidate who so seemingly so specifically writes an entire chunk of the American populace off as lost cause who’ll never support him and who therefore don’t deserve his focus?
PREDICTION: If Romney has not lost the election with this episode, he will take a big hit with many independent voters. He is clearly concerned with winning the middle and independents but this is unlikely to play too well.
AND THIS NOTE: I’m reading “The Real Romney” and am truly moved and touched by the accounts of his childhood, dedication to his faith, his manyacts to help others in his church, and his devotion to his family. It’s a pity that this Mitt Romney — and the Mitt Romney who at one time was viewed as an up and coming moderate Republican Govenor — has been washed away in his march to the White Houseby a new Romney who may be more practical but not as admirable.
Watch the press narrative on his press appearance both in print and on broadcast. Headlines and high concept phrases will help mold Romney’s image. And it’s unlikely to be good. Peggy Noon already said Romney reminded her a bit of Nixon; will this comparison be taken further?
PREDICTIONS: Sometime within the next two weeks Romney will appear on Fox News in an interview with Sean Hannity….Conservatives will go after the press for the release and widespread reporting of it.. A VALID question is the source. Did the source have a political motive? That won’t change the imagery hit Romney will receive but it will give his supporters a talking point…The scramble will be on to get footage of Obama or Joe Biden saying something troublesome at a fundraiser.
–Andrew Sullivan has two posts (here and here) asking whether Romney just lost the election. Read his posts for the roundups.
–Dick Polman tweet:
Dick Polman [email protected]
Mitt should begin the 1st debate this way: “My fellow Americans – except, of course, for the 47 pct of you who are lazy mooching slackers..”
—Marc Ambinder at his great new blog on The Week, on the tape:
Does Romney believe this? Was he playing to the crowd? It sounded like he really believed it.
Forget the 47 percent. Independents may not be as economically liberal as the folks allegedly portrayed by Romney, but they are absolutely scared to death of telling their neighbor that they voted for someone with such intolerant views. That is, the skin and packaging of a candidate does indeed matter to independents. Indies have very trigger-sensitive ears to hints of condescension. These are the types of people who decry divisive partisanship.
The only way that Romney’s strategists will try to salvage this video internally is to tell themselves that independents aren’t going to vote for Romney anyway, and that this video might really rally some extreme elements of the conservative base. Or maybe, independents will say to themselves: “Damn it, you know what? He’s right.”
Good luck with that one.
NB: who leaked this video to Corn? When was it shot? (Corn says he wants to protect his source so he can’t reveal it.) Did the Obama campaign have this in their pocket, ready to release it when Romney was just about dead in the water anyway?
Jacob Weisberg [email protected]
In press conference, Romney repeatedly conflates people who owe no income tax with people who pay no taxes. http://bit.ly/S1iJDr
Jason B. Whitman [email protected]
Here is @MittRomney answering questions more challenging than any the press ever asks Obama.
James Bennet [email protected]
I’m all for pols having the guts to face the press at tough time. But Romney looked anxious and uncertain and then fled.
Roger Simon [email protected]
Unsolicited advice to Gov. Romney: Walking away from questions at a press conference always looks good.
2h Jason Stanford [email protected]
Mitt Romney’s press conference was like a philanderer apologizing for hurting his wife’s feelings but saying he won’t leave his mistress.
Wait, what? That’s it? That’s essentially the Republican Party campaign platform. For all we can tell, that’s Romney prepping for one of the Republican debates.
If this videotape has any actual effect on the election, it’ll be to energize Romney’s base.
SPECIAL BONUS QUOTE:
Forget about the ideological blogs that are lockstep partisans or talk show hosts. Just look at how the Romney comments have played with the New York Times’ conservative columnist David Brooks, who takes Romney’s comments apart. Here’s just a taste of the column titled “Thurston Howell Romney,” after the ostentatious millionaire on Gilligan’s Island:
This comment suggests a few things. First, it suggests that he really doesn’t know much about the country he inhabits. Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the V.A.? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on Social Security or Medicare?
It suggests that Romney doesn’t know much about the culture of America. Yes, the entitlement state has expanded, but America remains one of the hardest-working nations on earth. Americans work longer hours than just about anyone else. Americans believe in work more than almost any other people. Ninety-two percent say that hard work is the key to success, according to a 2009 Pew Research Survey.
It says that Romney doesn’t know much about the political culture. Americans haven’t become childlike worshipers of big government. On the contrary, trust in government has declined. The number of people who think government spending promotes social mobility has fallen.
Romney’s comments also reveal that he has lost any sense of the social compact. In 1987, during Ronald Reagan’s second term, 62 percent of Republicans believed that the government has a responsibility to help those who can’t help themselves. Now, according to the Pew Research Center, only 40 percent of Republicans believe that.
The Republican Party, and apparently Mitt Romney, too, has shifted over toward a much more hyperindividualistic and atomistic social view — from the Reaganesque language of common citizenship to the libertarian language of makers and takers. There’s no way the country will trust the Republican Party to reform the welfare state if that party doesn’t have a basic commitment to provide a safety net for those who suffer for no fault of their own.
The final thing the comment suggests is that Romney knows nothing about ambition and motivation. The formula he sketches is this: People who are forced to make it on their own have drive. People who receive benefits have dependency.
But, of course, no middle-class parent acts as if this is true.
Further down, he ends with this:
Sure, there are some government programs that cultivate patterns of dependency in some people. I’d put federal disability payments and unemployment insurance in this category. But, as a description of America today, Romney’s comment is a country-club fantasy. It’s what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney.
Personally, I think he’s a kind, decent man who says stupid things because he is pretending to be something he is not — some sort of cartoonish government-hater. But it scarcely matters. He’s running a depressingly inept presidential campaign. Mr. Romney, your entitlement reform ideas are essential, but when will the incompetence stop?
Read it in its entirety.
–The Politico’s Roger Simon’s Tweet:
Romney’s explanation of his comments may be worse than the comments.
—The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky on the comments and broader impact:
I was surprised at my own reaction as I first read those words. I found myself taking personal offense. This is something I’ve never done as a political journalist. I just removed that instinct from my system years ago. I have two jobs, to give opinions and hopefully more-or-less accurate analysis. You think about things personally, you can’t do either one, especially the second. But as I read this, I thought: “You ignorant, pathetic man. I am none of those things.” And if I thought it—I who have trained myself never to have those thoughts—I can imagine what millions of others thought.
Can he really believe this? It’s incomprehensible. And yet it’s not. This is the story conservatives have been telling themselves over and over in the Tea Party age. All Democrats are moochers, and all moochers are Democrats. It has become an absolute article of faith among the kind of middle- and upper-middle-class people you see at Tea Party gatherings. More shockingly, conservative intellectuals spout this gibberish as well—for example, Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute.
…….It’s hard to judge the impact of this comment just yet. That will depend on how hard the Democrats run with it. They sure ought to have fun with it. I would expect we’ll see “Obama voter—and I’m not a victim” and “I pay a higher tax rate than you, Governor!” signs at rallies by tomorrow. Indeed, the average person pays more in mere payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare (15.3 percent) than Romney paid in total taxes for the year he released his returns (13.9 percent).
I suspect an impact that’s fairly big. People on the right will blame the media. But the real culprit is the words themselves. They slander millions of hard-working Americans. And the final point: In a way, it’s not even mostly Romney’s fault. It’s the fault of the party and movement that introduced and spread this toxic propaganda in the first place. When Romney is licking his wounds on Nov. 7, that party and movement will fire all its arrows at him. He’ll deserve a lot of them. But they will have buried him with the ignorance and rage they demanded he adopt. His chief crime will have been his weakness in failing to confront them.
–-Republican David Frum argues that conservative Republicans will prevent Romney from repairing the damage of his remarks:
Mitt Romney has just committed the worst presidential-candidate gaffe since Gerald Ford announced in 1976 that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.
Irreparable? To Romney’s image, yes; to his election chances … we’ll see. But you know who’s determined that Romney never recover? His deluded supporters in the conservative media world.
Here’s National Review news editor Daniel Foster. After conceding that Romney’s remarks about the 47% were maladroit, Foster wrote:
In other words, the more fully Romney owns these comments the less the press can report them as a “gaffe.” Romney is now in a position that he has to bring the fight to Obama on the entitlement state.
Likewise, former National Review editor John O’Sullivan:
If Romney responds to the Mother Jones story by backing off from his basic argument that far too many Americans are dependent upon the government and that this dependency skews their votes, he will weaken his campaign enormously
My Twitter feed has a lot more in this vein, and expect it to become the definitive conservative point of view after Rush Limbaugh weighs in at noon.
Romney was expressing views that are widely held among a certain group of conservatives, and they are determined to make it as awkward as possible for him to retreat from those views.
You might wonder: why?
He explains the fact that the majority of people who get government assistance are white. The he ends:
When you ask white Americans to estimate the black population of the United States, the answer averages out at nearly 30%. Ask them to estimate the Hispanic population, and the answer averages out at 22%.
So when a politician or a broadcaster talks about 47% in “dependency,” the image that swims into many white voters’ minds is not their mother in Florida, her Social Security untaxed, receiving Medicare benefits vastly greater than her lifetime tax contributions; it is not their uncle, laid off after 30 years and now too old to start over. No, the image that comes into mind is minorities on welfare.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.