Mitt Romney’s campaign strategy seems to be twofold: make life as hard as possible for your most devoted followers; convince everybody else that you’re the stereotypical and heartless capitalist brute of Democrat caricature. In the past 24 hours, he’s executed this strategy very effectively.
If you watch the secret footage of him from a Republican fundraiser, in which he dismisses 47 per cent of Americans as freeloaders “who pay no income tax” and behave like “victims”, you see a man trying to energise his base. But James Carville called it right when he said that any campaign trying to energise the base is “a campaign going down the toilet”. Much more importantly, it shows that Romney doesn’t understand America.
The implication of his argument, that all those people who receive benefits are victims, is wilfully myopic and stupid. A lot of government money is spent investing in the future (schools), easing suffering (medical help for the elderly) or rewarding virtue (exemptions and rewards for military veterans). Worse, it promotes a base and limited view of society, and shows that the hyper-individualist streak of the Republican Party is now dominant. As David Brooks puts it in the New York Times, it demonstrates a shift “from the Reaganesque language of common citizenship to the libertarian language of makers and takers”.
In fact, Mitt Romney is an admirable man, and some of his gaffes are over-stated. I have tried to defend him in the past, and so have many other Obama supporters. Even in this leaked video, the point he is trying to make is that he needs to appeal to independents, and that is doubtless correct. But his campaign is now so dominated by a failure of communication that even Romney’s most avid supporters are struggling to defend him. Each mess they make in the news cycle disrupts the basic narrative that Romney needs: America is broke; I’m a turnaround guy; give me the chance to fix this country.
This latest mess is, incidentally, as nothing compared with his disgusting, immature, opportunistic and un-statesmanlike attempt to exploit the death of Christopher Stevens for political gain. But it does increase the feeling that Mitt Romney – a fine capitalist in his time, and an excellent Governor – is both not worthy of presidential office and not what a United States of America needs.