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Romney’s Response to ‘Gaffe’: A Lost Opportunity


My overall take on the Romney 47 percent “gaffe” has already been stated here together with advice on how the candidate should handle it. Since sending it off, however, I’ve heard Romney’s own response. Well, it’s okayish.

He delivers a kind of mild analytical ramble through the “process” (his term) of getting the necessary 51–52 percent needed to win in November. Its message is that in discussing the 47 percent who don’t pay income tax, he’s really discussing the fact that Obama has about 47 percent of the vote in his camp and that he, Romney, has about the same, so that the electoral battle is about the remaining undecided six or more percent. It sounded to me as if he was trying to chloroform the story. He may partly succeed, but even if he does, he will leave behind the impression of catching up from a gaffe.

Romney (and all other politicians) should leave this kind of strategic electoral analysis to the professionals in their smoke-free backrooms. It’s demeaning for a would-be statesman to talk in these terms rather than in terms of the principles and policies they bring to solving the nation’s problems. Worse, however, it makes them look as if they see things from the wrong end of a statistician’s slide-rule.

Worse than that, however, it was an opportunity lost — and such things don’t come round with the frequency of rush-hour subway cars. So they have to be grabbed.

Romney could and should have made three points very firmly last night:#more#

1. He stood by his comments. That’s that. No ifs, buts, or maybes, and especially no soothing syrup about “not elegantly stated.” He was telling the truth and he’s not backing off. He did okayish here — it was admittedly a nice touch that he (twice) invited the leaker to publish the whole fundraising performance — but his tone was too mild.

2. He was telling the truth about the most important issue in the election — how Americans are taxed in hidden as well as open ways so that many of them don’t even realize the degree to which they’re being taxed. Then he should have made the rest of his statement a philippic on Obama and the tax issue. (See my earlier piece for more on that.)

3. He was mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. Romney was given the opportunity to get angry when a reporter asked him about (i.e., accused him of) saying one thing in public and another to his donors in private. Since he had just explained in some detail that he had said the same thing to his donors that he had been saying in public, this was a good time for him to say something like: “Maybe you didn’t hear me say a few minutes ago that I stood by my comments. Maybe you didn’t hear me ask Mother Jones to publish the whole video — which would make my consistency absolutely clear. Well, I’m sorry, but I’m sure your colleagues with shorthand will give you the quotes.”

Remember Reagan’s sudden unconventional appearance at the 1980 GOP Convention to announce his selection of George Bush as Veep candidate in order to halt the momentum for a Reagan-Ford “co-presidency” that was being generated by the Ford people through the media. He was firm, determined, even slightly angry, and he stamped his authority on the convention and the party unmistakably that night. Romney needs to do the same on this campaign. He’s not a polling analyst or campaign consultant, but the leader of, well, 47 percent of the voters. To get that percentage up to 51–52 percent or more, he’ll have to show 100 percent of the voters that he knows how to lead. We’ve already got the point that he’s a reasonable fellow.