Mitt Romney has spent the last year struggling to get Americans to identify with a draft-dodging, tax-avoiding, corporate-raiding multi-millionaire who refuses to admit he was born rich and enjoys being able to fire people who don’t please him. And finally, he’s done it.
I almost feel bad for Mitt.
Has a national candidate — excluding Sarah Palin — ever had a worse week than Mitt Romney just bumbled through? In less than a week, Mitt managed to evoke comparisons to Barry Goldwater, Gordon Brown and Richard Nixon. And that’s being generous.
Not since Barry Goldwater said, “Sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the eastern seaboard and let it float out to sea” has any major party candidate for president alienated such a huge chunk of the United States with just a few words. But unlike Goldwater’s dismissal of a third of the country, Mitt’s comments were made privately. And thus, they were even more honest… and more cutting.
Steve Kornacki of Salon.com points out that the only incident that could be compared to RomneyTape was when British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was caught in 2010 on a hot mic calling a Labour supporter a “bigoted woman.” Brown was insulting a particular woman with a particular trait. But it reinforced a narrative that he disdained a large swath of voters.
Both Goldwater and Brown lost their elections, of course.
Romney being caught on video denigrating 47 percent of Americans to his rich donors is really unprecedentedly bad. In his own voice and pixelated image, Mitt revealed that he is pretty much the heartless caricature his detractors have imagined. He’s the kind of guy who can accuse you of wanting “free stuff” while soliciting millions in donations and trying to give himself a massive tax break.
Romney’s response to the tape’s release was to basically affirm that what we heard in the video reflected what he believes, but said in an “inelegant” way. But the problem for Mitt was that in these few sentences, he was as clear and articulate as he’s ever been. What was missing was the veneer of his poll-tested BS.
Republicans in close elections across the nation realized that Mitt’s comments cut so close to the bone that they had to reject them. By Thursday, Mrs. Romney had to tell her fellow Republicans to “stop it!”
And the week kept getting worse. On Friday, Paul Ryan took his mother with him to speak to the largest senior citizen group in the country, AARP. Not since Cruella de Vil delivered the keynote at the Dalmatian convention has a speaker gotten a worse reception. It made Mitt’s visit to the NAACP look like a family reunion, as Ryan was booed so many times that reporters stopped counting.
At this point, Romney’s team decided, with Nixon-like timing, that things had gotten so bad that releasing Mitt’s tax returns — which would reveal that his tax rate is lower than his approval rating among MSNBC’s staff — couldn’t hurt. So in the long tradition of the Friday afternoon document dump, Mitt released one tax return and an unsubstantiated summary of his last 20 years.
In these documents we found out that Romney had doctored his 2011 tax rate by overpaying in order to match his public statements about his taxes.
That’s right. Mitt Romney purposely paid more taxes. There goes the one principle Republicans thought he would never violate. But of course he, unlike his donors, will be able to get his money back after the election.
“Whew,” Mitt must have thought. “Glad that week is history. Time to start over.”
So he sat down with 60 Minutes. He was asked about his campaign — which Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan has said needs an “intervention” — and Mitt, a “turnaround” expert famed for his leadership in engineering a federal bailout of the Salt Lake Olympics, shrugged off any concerns.
“It doesn’t need a turnaround,” he said. “I’ve got a very effective campaign. It’s doing a very good job.”
Exactly what America needs in a leader… someone who doesn’t know when he just stepped on a landmine.
I know. What else is he going to say? “The fundamentals of my campaign are strong”?
Part of Mitt’s problem is that in his “bubble,” Republicans are telling him he’s winning. They’re ignoring the president’s lead in most polls and relying on the Gallup and Rasmussen daily tracking polls, which are close.
Analyst Nate Cohn sums up what most polling experts are seeing, “But for the moment, the balance of polls points toward a clear lead for the president — perhaps four or five points nationally and in the big eastern battleground states that hold the keys to victory in the Electoral College.”
That Republicans even have polls to justify their alternative universe is probably a good thing for the president, who needs to keep Democrats from being overconfident to stave off an upset or, even better, possibly take back the House.
And Republicans will keep on believing that this is 1980 and Mitt will say something in the debates that magically makes him seem as charming as Reagan, transforming the president into Jimmy Carter with a tan even Mitt Romney would admire. And if you believe that, Team Romney has a campaign they’d like to sell you.
No matter what happens, Mitt’s problem isn’t the polls or even the fundraising numbers that show the president regaining his advantage. His problem is that the more Americans get to know him, the less they like him. And as any expert knows, no “turnaround” can fix that.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak