From TPM Reader JR …
I read Josh’s editor’s blog post excerpting from an e-mail from reader EW on the John Kerry fiasco of saying he would’ve voted for war on Iraq even without WMDs. And it floored me, because I long ago totally forgot about that, and indeed I’m sure at the time, in the heat of political battle, I belittled it in my own mind. I’m sure at the time I just rationalized it away, or else I’d remember it today as the same kick in the gut that EW remembered.
Which raises a couple points.
First, I do think in hindsight that disastrous statement by Kerry epitomized why in the end not enough swing voters were willing to trust him. It clarifies why “I voted for it before I voted against it” mattered and hurt so much, not because the specific damaging words were a legitimate attack point, but because they symbolized Kerry truly trying to have it both ways: for the Iraq War, and yet somehow also against it. Kerry ultimately was never clearly against the war during that campaign, he just played the part as much as he could with the base…but then would get caught in the GOP vice squeezing him till he burst. It does make sense Mitt is in a similar position, although it’s a little different because it’s about more than just health care, it’s his entire ideological posture. Health care is just a symbol of that.
But second, my own experience of having rationalized way Kerry’s jaw-dropping words illustrates what I think will happen with the GOP base this time: they similarly will rationalize it away, because beating Obama is the goal, and Romney is only a vehicle to accomplish that. That’s all Kerry was, too, no one on our side cared if the next President was Kerry or someone else, as long as it was a Democrat who would defeat Bush. So I think it’s important not to expect this Romney gaffe to have much effect. Another distinction from 2004 is that the Obama campaign isn’t actually running against Romney as a flip-flopper or as two-faced, that was submerged as a second-level of attack used only in media persuasion, pushed in press calls and press releases and social media and through surrogates on TV. Instead Obama is attacking Romney on the basis of taking him at his word as a far right conservative and tying it into Romney’s personal biography. So that mutes using health care against him in voter persuasion, which is a very different thing from working the media even though there is some overlap.
I do enjoy how Romney and his team consistently hurt themselves in so many news cycles. That normally doesn’t matter because it happens some to every major party nominee in what these days is a very long campaign. But I think it’s hard to argue Romney isn’t shooting himself in the foot far more than perhaps anyone in my adult life, including Kerry or Dole or even Dukakis. Mitt seems to be inflicting a thousand cuts on himself in a neverending saga of self-mutilation. And that does add up over time and help form an impression of him among voters as someone in over his head.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.