Mitt Romney’s Secret Video: 5 Reasons It Hurts

In 2008, candidate Barack Obama had to contend with a media firestorm when comments he made at a San Francisco fundraiser were covertly recorded and released to the public:

“People have been beaten down so long, they feel so betrayed by their government…it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”

Today, Mitt Romney may be facing his “cling to guns” moment.
In an exclusive video released by Mother Jones Magazine, a liberal publication, Governor Romney is seen at a fundraiser—reportedly after he clinched the Republican nomination—sharing his view of Obama voters:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe 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. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…My job is is not to worry about those people.”

Later, he reportedly said:

“There is a perception, ‘Oh, we were born with a silver spoon, he never had to earn anything and so forth.’ Frankly, I was born with a silver spoon, which is the greatest gift you can have: which is to get born in America.”

I’ll deal with the second quote first. The fact is that Mitt Romney is right—being born an American offers enormous advantages over people born in many other parts of the world.

But he should have known better than to ever utter such a phrase—something I refer to as a “seven-second stray”—since it would so predictably be used against him. That’s true even for “closed door” meetings, since candidates have little control over a rogue attendee who might secretly film unhelpful comments using their mini smartphone cameras. And given how the late Texas Governor Ann Richards used the “silver spoon” line so viciously against George H.W. Bush in 1988 (“silver foot,” actually) you’d think Romney would have learned his lesson.

But the first part of the quote is entirely in context. For Mr. Romney, his covert tape presents at least five problems:

  1. Some of his support surely comes from people who don’t pay income taxes—a group he is now at risk of alienating.
  2. It undermines his pitch that he, more than President Obama, is well-positioned to care for the middle class.
  3. It will encourage other discouraged conservatives to question the effectiveness of his campaign (some conservative stalwarts have publicly castigated his campaign over the past few days), and will extend the “Romney can’t win” storyline.
  4. The very nature of the covertly recorded video will support the narrative that he speaks one way in private and another way in public.
  5. He appears to be saying that he disagrees that people should be entitled to “food,” and that he doesn’t worry about people who can’t earn it for themselves.

I’m curious to see how the Romney campaign responds to this latest off-message moment. I suspect they’ll start by attacking the mainstream media, but my hunch is that they’ll need something better to get past this latest embarrassment.

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