In what should have been a day spent building on the momentum from his decisive victory yesterday in the Florida primary, Mitt Romney instead spent most of his time today cleaning up the mess he created in this interview with Soledad O’Brien this morning on CNN. (By the way, my two sons are named “Attica” and “Alcatraz”.)
Notice that when Soledad gave him the opportunity to correct any misimpressions created by his initial statement, Romney in effect double downed on the idea that the poor were not his priority in this campaign. Look, it is clear what he was trying to say in this exchange. But it is equally obvious that the way he said it left him vulnerable, once again, to those who want to create the impression that he is a wealthy Wall St. capitalist who has little empathy for the “little people.” Those trying to derail his campaign are not going to miss the opportunity to condense Mitt’s statement into him saying he doesn’t care for the poor. This will now be added to the list of previous Romney remarks that, in the shorthand retelling, have him saying he likes to fire people, that he knows what it is to be unemployed, and that his idea of a gentleman’s bet involves exchanging $10,000. And don’t get me started on his treatment of the family dog. Collectively these incidents – as retold in the popular press – create the impression of a man who just doesn’t empathize with Joe and Jane Sixpack.
The problem is not simply one of verbal maladroitness. It is that these comments, as retold in condensed fashion through the media, make it harder for him to attract the support of exactly that portion of the Republican electorate that so far has been unwilling to pull the lever on his behalf: conservative, low-income supporters of the Tea Party. In my post yesterday I went through the exit polls numbers from Florida: despite Romney’s convincing victory, Gingrich still beat him among strong conservatives, those who strongly support the Tea Party, and evangelicals. Collectively these constitute about a third of the Republican voters. Until Romney shows he can broaden his support to include these economic populists, his road to the nomination is much more difficult. This is not to say that he’s not in the driver’s seat. It is to say that he’s not likely to close this race out any time soon.
I’ll develop these points in the context of addressing the Gingrich campaign in tomorrow’s post. For now, however, you might want to catch the latest online exchange between my colleague Bert Johnson and I as we attempt, once again, to demolish the myth that Citizens United has opened the campaign fundraising spigot to unprecedented levels. (In fact, candidate spending is down this cycle.)
I also have a piece up at U.S. News and World Report debate club where I make the case that Newt Gingrich should stay in the race for the good of the GOP. Note that some Republican strategist is beating me in the debate on this question. I urge all of you to go to that website and demonstrate that political science trumps campaign strategery when it comes to understanding election-year politics. (Go to the main debate website and vote!)
Finally, let me remind everyone that, against my better judgment, I have been persuaded by the powers-that-be to open a twitter account in order to publicize my blog posts and other online bleatings. For the twits among you, please follow me at MattDickinson44 and notice the cool logo I have. I promise not to flood your twitter feed with inane postings documenting the wild road kill I cooked….er… wild game I shot for dinner or my immense knowledge of Star Trek (TOS) episodes. I will only post when I have a blog post up, or when my comments may save the world from a nuclear holocaust.
And for those of you who keep pestering me, yes, I’ll be up with my SuperBowl pick soon.