By Michael Baker
“The worst gaffes confirm stereotypes.” That’s a quote by Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, speaking about Mitt Romney’s recent “off the cuff” remarks regarding 47% of the electorate. It’s an idea that I’ve never heard articulated in such clear and concise terms, and I think it’s absolutely correct. To back it up, Gerson points to Obama’s infamous 2008 “guns and religion” statement and W’s DUI, both of which severely dented but did not derail their respective campaigns.
And I think that’s the gravamen of Romney’s current situation – the recently revealed recording of Mitt at a private fundraiser paints him as exactly what many voters suspected that he was. It paints him as a dude who’s out of touch with a huge segment of the American population, and who is perfectly willing to write that segment off as irrelevant to his interests.
What does it mean if this stereotype has been confirmed? Saying that 47% of the country “think of themselves as victims” is Romney’s “You didn’t build that.” But the fact is that you don’t need to take Mitt’s statements as far out of context to make him look bad. Basically, Romney is pretty much the same guy who most voters suspected that he was – he’s a Republican with an outwardly conservative agenda, and he’s a rich guy who’s running for President; he wants money from donors and votes from everyone, but he’s also prepared to acknowledge that some voters will never support him.
So if Romney is basically just the guy who we all thought he was then does this statement matter at all? It’s confirmation of what we already suspected. So if you were already a Romney backer, this shouldn’t give you pause. And if you already thought that Romney was an out of touch miser, this shouldn’t fire you up any further.
Stereotypes tend to be based on intuition. Intuition tends to inform the positions that we take on social and political issues. So if all that Mitt’s statement does is confirm our stereotypes about Romney then it shouldn’t change much. And in spite of current media trends, I suspect that it won’t.