A few months ago I asked the question: is Mitt Romney political enough for politics? A series of clumsy gaffes at the time had led me to the view that Romney, then presumptive nominee, was probably not.
Over the summer, the slow and painful drip of mistakes and misjudgements from the Romney camp underlined this conclusion more heavily than if Romney had announced he was in the race purely for the free White House beer (he doesn’t drink). Romney’s summer offensive, his visit to London for example, was a public relations disaster that served only to foster doubts about his foreign policy credentials here and abroad, and as an added bonus helped unite the British people in a spitting fury that a foreigner would dare attack the UK’s capacity to host the Olympics.
Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan as VP in a future Republican administration boosted his campaign somewhat, but the Miss Havisham-like spectre of Clint Eastwood’s appearance at the Republican convention and Romney’s mangled and thoughtless response to the dreadful events in Benghazi highlighted the dire advice he is receiving (never mind the frightening thought that he is ignoring his advisers and following his own instincts).
The past few days have seen a mediagasm of reports about Romney campaign in-fighting and an obsession with what Alistair Campbell used to call ‘processology’, a focus on the players and machinations of a campaign that no-one outside of the political bubble gives a toss about. But it is the leak yesterday of a recording of Mitt telling fundraisers that his “job is not to worry about those people” – he is referring to 47 per cent of the population who, Mitt says, are dependent upon government for healthcare, housing and food – because “they will vote for the President no matter what” that, for me, screams a lack of fitness for any kind of political office.
Jefferson said: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” He didn’t add “I’m talking about the 53 per cent, you know that, right?”
This wasn’t a gaffe. Romney meant what he said. The fact that he has written off almost half the population of this vast country, almost 150 million people (in the tape he calls them “victims”), is an extraordinary admission, not only because he may have felt this was what donors wanted to hear, as @NicoHines rightly raised (which leads to questions about the kind of donors you want supporting your campaign and what they expect for their patronage), but also for the political naivety and quite shocking callousness it exposes.
In comparison, Obama in 2008 took the opposite tack, saying “To those Americans whose support I have yet to earn – I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.” At yesterday’s late night emergency oh-shit-i-fucked-up-again mini-press-conference, Romney stood by his comments.
This view of ‘entitlement’ echoes David Cameron’s broadside earlier this summer at those in the UK on benefits. It demonstrates a lack of compassion for those less fortunate in society, but also for those who need that initial hand to help themselves; as David Brooks points out in the NY Times, Mitt’s ‘victims’ include war veterans receiving assistance and students getting loans to go to college.
I wrote back in May that “Romney’s wealth has led to accusations of being out of touch with ordinary people, a charge often leveled at David Cameron; neither men are tribal politicians, and the aspirations of both to ascend to the top rung of politics seem more the result of ticking off a bucket-list than a burning desire to change things for the better”.
This seems the most prescient thing I have written since predicting at the age of fourteen that I would never go beyond a 32B.
Romney’s pitch to fundraisers is fascinating because of what it doesn’t reveal, and what I have struggled with for a while: the underlying motivation behind his desire to be President. Cameron famously said when asked why he wanted to be Prime Minister: “Because I think I’d be quite good at it”. You would not look askance at these words flying, breathlessly, out of Mitt’s mouth.
So why does Romney want to be President? Because he truly believes he can turn a struggling economy around? To repair America’s reputation across the globe? Or to go further with his bid for the Presidency than his father did?
You tell me. I’m stumped.