If Barack Obama prevails this November, it will be in large part because of what has come out of Mitt Romney’s mouth in the last year.
I’m not talking about gaffes, for which the presumptive Republican nominee has a Freudian propensity. It’s as if the gaffe that ended his beloved father’s 1968 presidential campaign (George Romney said he had been subject to “brainwashing” on a trip to South Vietnam) puts Mitt Romney into “Don’t think of an elephant” mode. He’s so conscious of not making a gaffe that his subconscious insists on one every couple of weeks.
But gaffes are overrated as decisive campaign events. With the possible exception of President Gerald Ford saying during a televised debate a month before the 1976 election that Poland was not under Soviet domination (a howler that slowed an amazing comeback against Jimmy Carter), it’s hard to think of a misstatement that has determined the outcome.
Romney letting slip that he pals around with Nascar owners, or that corporations are people, too, or that his wife drives a couple of Cadillacs may cement his position as the out-of-touch poster boy of the 1 percent. But if he convinces people he can fix an ailing economy, not much else will matter. Swing voters rarely vote against someone just because he’s rich.
Between now and the election, these and other cable-ready boo-boos will become distant memories. Web ads about them may go viral, but they aren’t likely to sway anyone who hasn’t already decided against Romney.
The bigger problem is what the soon-to-be Republican nominee has said on substance. The news media doesn’t focus much on issues, which are duller than the circus but usually more lethal politically. Unlike gaffes, political positions are fair game for Obama to exploit in front of 60 million voters watching the fall debates.