Mitt Romney stepped in it again this week when he was recorded during a private campaign function telling wealthy would-be contributors that he is not going to worry about even trying to get support from 47 percent of the American populace – the percentage of people who supposedly dont pay income tax and therefore must be on the public dole.
His campaign, if you can believe it, has been working very hard to defend their guy from his own words, apparently ignoring the fact that the percentage of people who dont pay income tax also includes wealthy people who know how to use tax rules to their advantage so they dont have to pay, seniors on low fixed incomes who dont rely on public assistance, and people who are too poor to pay taxes but not poor enough to get on welfare. The latter two categories describe a lot of people here in St. Lawrence County.
I think he did a tremendous job alienating half the country and reinforcing the belief that he is way out of touch with the average American. Id like to see him try to tell north country voters that middle class means making between $200,000 and $250,000 a year. By that standard, he must consider most of us to be poverty stricken.
I have been hearing a lot of national media types on weekend talking heads news shows wonder aloud whether the press is spending too much time focusing on Romneys gaffes and not enough time focusing on his policy points. There have been good arguments on both sides of that question. But I dont think anybody in press circles can disagree that this gaffe was way too big to ignore.
Sure, hes not the best public speaker. George W. Bush wasnt the best public speaker, either, and he had two terms in office. But even W would have known better than to say such a thing in an age when just about everybody has a cell phone with a camera that can instantly post a candidates unfiltered moments on the Internet for all to see. Romney might have thought he was at a private campaign fundraiser. What he is obviously the last guy to figure out is that technology makes it so there is no such thing these days.
Will this be the end for Romney? I dont know. Voters in past elections have demonstrated that their memories are pretty short when it comes to individual missteps by candidates and that there is, indeed, nothing older than yesterdays news. Besides, a lot of people arent crazy about the job President Barack Obama has done trying to fix the nations economic woes. A lot of voters in these parts are decidedly not happy with Obama for reasons too varied and numerous to list.
Obamas campaign people have been lightning-quick to pounce on every little misstep by their opposition, though, and thats a tactic that will only pick up momentum as the election nears. Even if this most recent misstep fades into a vague memory, Obamas people are going to make sure voters dont entirely forget that Romney at one point said he didnt care about them. And they dont seem to have to try very hard to convince people that Obama is the lesser of two evils.
Even though a lot of people Ive talked to say they are disillusioned with the shiny new president they fell in love with in 2008, a lot of those same people tell me theres no way theyd vote for Romney. They just dont like him. They dont have anything in common with him. He has the charisma of a damp sponge and doesnt seem very genuine or even human. His selection of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as a running mate was supposed to reinvigorate his supporters and get him new ones, but that only got a lukewarm response among the conservatives the choice was supposed to win over. Even a few of the hard-core conservatives I know have said they arent that impressed. The post-Republican convention leap in the polls the Romney-Ryan campaign was supposed to get never really materialized. People just arent that excited about him.
A lot of the people Ive talked to had a hard time figuring out why he ended up being the top Republican choice for a presidential nominee in the first place. Why couldnt poor Jon Huntsman get any love?
On top of all the obstacles Romney faces in trying to convince people he is a human just like them, he keeps having to defend himself from, well, himself. He cant keep his foot out of his mouth. The Obama campaign hardly has to lift a finger to make the guy look bad because hes doing such a good job of it on his own.
Can he win over voters if he keeps asking the question about whether were better off than we were four years ago? Maybe. If he can keep his foot out of his mouth long enough to ask it.