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.”
This week, Mitt Romney is facing his “cling to guns” moment.
In an exclusive video released by the left-leaning Mother Jones magazine, Gov. Romney is heard at a fundraiser—reportedly after
he clinched the Republican nomination—sharing his view of Obama voters:
In case you didn't watch the video, Gov. Romney said:
“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.”
On Monday night, Romney called a press conference in which he admitted that the remarks were “not elegantly stated” and were off the cuff. However, he stood by them, telling reporters
“But it’s a message which I’m going to carry and continue to carry—which is, look, the president’s approach is attractive to people who are not paying taxes because frankly my discussion about lowering taxes isn’t as attractive to them, and therefore I’m not likely to draw them into my campaign as effectively as those who are in the middle.”
By Tuesday, the story was dominating headlines and among the trending topics on Twitter, as another video clip—this one of Romney insisting Palestinians have no interest in peace—has hit the Web.
The Washington Post described
this week as Romney’s “darkest hour,” while The New York Times
’ David Brooks said
the incident “suggests Romney doesn’t know much about the American culture.”
Examining the hidden video statements
Regarding Gov. Romney’s statement about being born in America, 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 Gov. 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.
Brad Phillips is the president of Phillips Media Relations, which specializes in media and presentation training. He blogs at Mr. Media Training, where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets @MrMediaTraining.