As we consider the tempest in a teapot of a possible Mitt 2016 run, here’s a very interesting passage Mark Leibovich’s piece on Romney in the Times Magazine.
“I was talking to one of my political advisers,” Romney continued, “and I said: ‘If I had to do this again, I’d insist that you literally had a camera on me at all times” — essentially employing his own tracker, as opposition researchers call them. “I want to be reminded that this is not off the cuff.”
This, as he saw it, was what got him in trouble at that Boca Raton fund-raiser, when Romney told the crowd he was writing off the 47 percent of the electorate that supported Obama (a.k.a. “those people”; “victims” who take no “personal responsibility”). Romney told me that the statement came out wrong, because it was an attempt to placate a rambling supporter who was saying that Obama voters were essentially deadbeats.
“My mistake was that I was speaking in a way that reflected back to the man,” Romney said. “If I had been able to see the camera, I would have remembered that I was talking to the whole world, not just the man.” I had never heard Romney say that he was prompted into the “47 percent” line by a ranting supporter. It was also impossible to ignore the phrase “If I had to do this again.”
There are several very interesting layers to this passage. One is the constant danger every candidate has in exchanges with the public of trying to sympathize with or at least demonstrate an understanding of what a voter is saying before responding to it. Living in the tracker era just elevates the risk exponentially. In regular life, most of us know the experience of just ‘yessing’ someone – passively suggesting amorphous agreement because you just don’t want to deal with whatever nonsense they’re peddling. But for a candidate, this is dicey ground, especially with trackers standing by.
But that’s particularly so for someone like Romney whose primary political posture is acclimating to the audience in question (literal or national) and attempting to mimic their views. Bill Clinton has this too – but he’s a master at it, whereas Mitt is clumsy.
What really killed Mitt politically in that exchange is that whether this was a longterm belief of his, he had at least internalized this set of beliefs deeply over the last few years when it’s become an article of faith among most Republicans.