MONDAY was touted by Mitt Romney’s campaign as a “re-launch” day, an opportunity for the candidate and his proxies to engage voters with specifics about what his presidency would entail. By Tuesday morning, however, rather than resembling a fresh start, it looked like more of a relapse.
The decision by the website Mother Jones to release a four-month-old video of Romney attracted so much traffic it almost brought the site to a standstill. It threatens doing the same to Romney’s pursuit of the presidency. Among a variety of ill-advised comments came Romney’s remark that “47 percent” of voters would support Barack Obama in November because they represent a group who “are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”
The line itself is almost a picture of Romney straight out of Democratic research. But it’s also the crudeness and absolute absurdity of drawing a direct correlation between those who don’t pay income tax and Obama’s poll rating that may well deter independents and even conservative voters. Although Romney is hardly the first person to cite this 47 per cent statistic, most conservatives rationalise that it is due to Obama’s failures, not the financial shortcomings and hard luck facing almost half of the country, that people have had to turn to the government for support. Romney has refused to back down from his remarks, but he has nuanced them. When you’re caught on video, however, this can be a rather forlorn task.
Romney’s latest distraction comes at a time when Obama’s post-convention bounce has certainly abated. But voters’ attitudes are becoming much more amenable to a second term. Despite the country’s ongoing economic malaise, more Americans are becoming optimistic about the future, perhaps seeing any slight improvement as something far more substantial in relative terms. Romney still leads with independents, but Obama is now moving ahead with nearly every income demographic. Ironically, Romney enjoys strong support in households earning $24,000 (£14,173) or less. The Republican may have disparaged more than just Obama supporters.
In 1964, many of the attacks against Republican Barry Goldwater emanated from his sheer inability to tone down his rhetoric, particularly when he claimed the “country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea.” Democrats claimed that only through re-electing Lyndon Johnson could the country have a President representative of all Americans. We’ve seen this play out before. Romney has just 47 precious days to convey to those 47 per cent of voters why they are part of his solution and not the problem.
Ewan Watt is a Washington, DC-based consultant. Follow him on Twitter @ewancwatt