Mitt Romney dropped a gift in the lap of Obama’s reelection campaign when he told CNN this morning that he was “not concerned about the very poor.” The members of Team Obama are no doubt rubbing their hands over the way he played into their class-warfare script.
But whether wince-making moments become self-destructive ones depends on how they play in Peoria. Gerald Ford lost the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter after he said that “there is no Soviet dominance of Eastern Europe.” However much Ford and his staff tried to explain the remark, it sounded wrong enough to let Joe Sixpack believe that he was smarter than the president.
The same applies to Lewinskygate. As it became clear that Clinton did have sex with “that woman,” the Clinton team’s spin alienated white male voters. They resented that he was able to keep his job when those who labored in the private sector would have been fired, and not even with the best efforts of Paul Begala or James Carville could his furtive trysts be painted in patriotic tones.
But Iran-Contra could. The Reagan administration could plausibly argue that funneling aid to the contras to fight the evil empire, and selling arms to Iran to get the hostages out, were both attempts to save lives.
Or consider Michelle Obama’s infamous quote that “for the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country.” The general public shook its head and wondered why she wasn’t proud of anything that happened in America in the last three decades besides the Democrats’ nominating her husband. Gaffes like that continue to hound the people who make them (hence the fans booing her appearance at a Nascar race).
Romney’s comment preceded a clear appeal to the middle class, which he is most concerned about. The Obama camp can use its favorite weapon, class warfare, to make sure the remark clings to him. But the very poor are in Obama’s camp already. In 2008, one voter stated that now that Obama was in office, he would pay her rent. Such people will not be won over by any Republican, regardless of what he says. But the middle class (who get out and vote, as opposed to the very poor, who traditionally do not) will feel that finally they have someone on their side. This comment could be wrapped in the flag on one hand, and not on the other; Mitt could be perceived as selectively patriotic for the middle class, while not so for the poor.
But then again, Obama could be perceived as vice versa.
— Ron Capshaw is a writer living in Midlothian, Virginia.