Romney’s campaign into oblivion
It is possible to forgive it as a congenital trait. After all, his Dad, the genial George Romney, successful head of the American Motor Corp and governor of Michigan (1963-69), lost his bid for the Republican nomination for the presidency in 1968 by setting a world record for the mass manufacture of gaffes. He had such a penchant for saying one thing and then retracting it, the reporter Jack Germond announced he was fixing his keyboard so that one keystroke produced “Romney later explained…” It was charming for a time to hear what George had said lately, but when he came back from a look at the Vietnam War, he announced he’d had “the greatest brainwashing anyone could get.” His rival Eugene McCarthy cracked that a light rinse would have been enough to relieve George’s neurological condition, but this time George had gone a gaffe too far. Some American prisoners released by the Chinese had renounced their U.S. citizenship, saying they’d been brainwashed, and primary voters had no enthusiasm for electing a president who might turn out to have been the Manchurian candidate. So we got Nixon and Agnew instead. Thanks, George.
Mitt was on a similar jag through the nomination process. “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me… My wife drives a couple of Cadillacs… I’m not concerned about the very poor, we have a safety net…” Men and women who’ve been looking for work for a year are supposed to appreciate the irony when he opens up: “I should tell my story. I’m also unemployed.”
It’s tough getting through the Great Recession when your net worth is just a few hundred million. Mitt doesn’t understand why there should be an intake of breath across the continent when in a televised debate argument about a healthcare detail with Republican Governor Rick Perry he says: “I’ll tell you what, ten thousand bucks? $10,000 bet?” His attempt to cozy up to followers of Nascar races is: “I have some friends who are Nascar owners.” Arriving in Britain for the Olympics, of course, his tin ear wins a tin medal for finding the organization “disconcerting.”
These gaffes have been seen as evidence of the insensitivity of a man who inhabits a parallel world, embarrassments all round rather than manifestations of ineptitude disqualifying him from high office. He undoubtedly has the managerial competence for that. For all the left’s demonization of Mitt’s venture capital company, Bain, he showed he could chart a future for dying companies and create a thriving new one (like the Staples stationery chain) just as he turned a corrupt shambles of the Utah Winter Olympics into a showcase. He will never be the president who can figure out bipartisan deals with the opposition, as Reagan did regularly over drinks with his “old buddy” Speaker Tip O’Neill (neither can Obama). Nor will he be a bumbling Warren Harding, captive of corrupt, whisky-sodden cronies. Mitt is squeaky clean. And it can fairly be said that while Obama is a very likable president who inherited a financial catastrophe, he has not exactly excelled as a Reagan-style rejuvenator. He gave priority to Obamacare over jobs, failed to retain convincing economic counsel and unwisely delegated his vital stimulus package to a pork-barrel Congress. He is seen more now as a caretaker of decline, rather than a healer of the planet, a pacifier of the oceans.
This is where Romney’s latest excursion into unreality is so maddening to Republicans with only seven weeks to voting, less in early voting states. A select few wealthy men and women were present at the dinner where Mitt asked for their donations, but the videotape, made in May, is now being viewed by millions of voters as the secret unveiling of the portrait of Dorian Gray, Mitt revealing his dark soul. See, Democrats are saying nationwide in a swelling chorus, see his contempt for half the population, the other half, the ordinary decent Americans. You there in the 47 percent whom Mitt says will vote for Obama are lazy good-for-nothing moochers. You must be. You don’t pay any income tax, you gorge on food stamps, you “believe you are entitled to healthcare, to food and housing, you name it.” No amount of retouching can change the image: not Mitt bounding on stage a day later to say this election is about the 100 percent; not the energized hard-right Tea Party activists whose views are flecks of foam on the Internet websites (“The bastards should be paying taxes like the rest of us…”); not Donald Trump telling him he has nothing to apologize for.
Mitt may have quelled the anxieties of the right that at heart he was still a closet liberal, the governor of Massachusetts whose healthcare law was a model for Obama’s, but at what a price! His conflation of the 47 percent who pay no federal income tax with feckless Obama voters is also offensive to millions of his own voters who don’t earn enough to pay federal tax but do pay state and payroll and sales taxes and pride themselves on their sense of responsibility – among them, the elderly, the military, the disabled, the young and the poor but proud Hispanics.
It has to be said, amid the uproar, that a few of the things Romney was captured saying on the unwelcome videotape are true or defensible. The country is concerned at a culture of dependency. The huge and astounding mistake Romney made – out of his lack of real connection with people – was that he blamed this on the Americans and not the administration. Forty-one million Americans don’t want to be reliant on food stamps. They want work, and that’s what the administration has singularly failed to effect.
The election of 2012 looks as if it will go into the history books as the Battle of the Percentages. Surprisingly for a man who eats balance sheets for breakfast, Romney chose the wrong percentages. The left has drummed up a phony populism around the 1 percent who own the country. But the critics of Obama have a higher percentage of the percentages on their side on what they show about how the administration has failed to achieve a recovery
18 percent without full-time work
40 percent of the unemployed out of work for six months or longer
15 percent dependent on food stamps and Social Security disability (up from 7.9 percent from 1970-2000)
66 percent now believe the country is heading in the wrong direction
40 percent decline in middle-class families’ household net worth from 10 years earlier and with lower incomes for the first time in the post-World War Two era
The percentage that must worry the Romney team, of course, is that Obama is ahead by five or six percentage points and ahead in battleground states with a large number of electoral votes. This is crucial. The winner-takes-all system in state voting awards all a state’s electoral votes to the one with the most popular votes in that state.
GOP leaders were already lukewarm about their man, but their hopes of putting a Republican back in the White House and retaking the Senate are hardly assisted by the formation since the speech of a circular firing squad of top party intellectuals facing grassroots activists. Influential Republican columnists like David Brooks, Bill Kristol, David Frum and former Bush aide Mark McKinnon are aghast at the Romney Ramblings: “The tape reveals a deeply cynical man who would likely govern in a way that would only further divide us.” [McKinnon]; “Stupid and arrogant” [Kristol]; “He has committed the worst presidential candidate gaffe since Gerald Ford announced in 1976 there is no Soviet domination of eastern Europe.” [Frum]
But this is heresy to Red State’s Eric Erickson, who speaks for the hardliners: “For once we see Mitt Romney undercover and off the record and he sounds like a real person not pulled [by] the gravitational forces of the DC GOP media elite who have capitulated to $16 trillion in national debt. And suddenly those Beltway Republicans are beating up on Romney for saying something off the cuff, maybe not as polished as he should have but that is agreed by a majority of Americans.”
The “Beltway Republicans” that the hard right assails know full well that “God bless half of America” is not much of a prayer for getting out the vote, but it seems that in their hearts they’d rather not win than see the party of Lincoln lose its soul to the far right. They are aghast at what they see as a betrayal of the ideals of the Great Emancipator.
Meanwhile, Karl Rove, the Svengali who won two elections for George W. Bush, has his tin helmet on, and he’s whistling in the dark, trying to reassure one and all that the uproar will die down – that this is not Romney junior’s brainwashing moment.
PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney waves as he boards his campaign plane in Denver, Colorado, September 24, 2012. REUTERS/Brian Snyder