Has there ever been as inept a recent presidential candidate as Mitt Romney? By comparison Al Gore and John Kerry, both mocked in their day as wooden and robotic, were models of empathy, nimbleness and lightness of touch. The Romney campaign, moreover, is supposed be the tightest-run of ships. Instead it – or more exactly its standard-bearer – generates gaffes by the boatload.
The video of Mr Romney describing 47 per cent of the population as spongers and “victims,” who pay no income tax and will for ever vote Democratic, is but the latest of them. Of itself, such frank talk at the home of a wealthy Florida fundraiser, revealing the personal opinions of the candidate as opposed to the pre-packaged guff of his stump speech, need not be disastrous. Four years ago Barack Obama, at a similar Democratic event in rich and liberal San Francisco, was caught deriding unemployed voters in Pennsylvania as clinging to God and guns. In the event he won both the state and the election by a wide margin.
But for Mitt Romney this time, there may be no recovery. The candidate wants to depict himself as a problem-solving businessman, seeking to improve life for everyone. Instead he has merely reinforced the stereotypical image put about by his opponents that he is a country-club elitist, a Darwinian capitalist who neither understands nor cares one whit about the problems faced by ordinary, less fortunate citizens.
He also got his facts wrong. Nearly 47 per cent of Americans may not pay federal income tax, but many of them pay payroll taxes (the US equivalent of National Insurance), as well as state and local taxes.
Of course, not everything he said was false. Given the highly polarised electorate, he rightly noted that the outcome will be decided by the 5 or 10 per cent of voters who have still to make up their minds. September, however, is when Americans start paying attention to the campaign – and many of these “thoughtful” individuals are likely to weigh his remarks, and conclude that Mitt Romney is not the man America needs.
It is hard to see now how he rights the ship. Currently, he trails Mr Obama both in national polls and in most of the dozen or so swing states which will determine the result. He was seeking to ‘ re-boot’ his campaign. Instead, the ’victims’ gaffe is a self-inflicted distraction he can ill afford a bare 48 days before election day.
The astonishing thing is that he should know better. Mr Romney went through the presidential campaign meat-grinder in 2008, yet he still makes the same mistakes. He is an able and talented man. Messrs Gore and Kerry were losers. Candidate Romney, barring a massive improvement in these final weeks, looks set to join them.