Mitt Romney and the 47%: No Way Back?

American presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s comments that 47% of the American population will ‘never take responsibility and care for their lives’ have added yet more controversy to a campaign dominated by gaffes in recent weeks. Every politician mis-steps on occasion, but Mr Romney’s comments will be especially difficult to overcome because:

1. They reveal the fundamentally cynical and elitist worldview, dashing any hopes that Romney is a secret moderate.

2. They will fire up Obama’s base, demotivate Romney’s base (many Romney supporters are in the 47% that pay no income tax) and scare off independents.

3. According to the kindest interpretation, Mr Romney’s comments are part of an important wider debate about tax and entitlement. True, the US faces important choices about how to reinvigorate its economy and balance the books. But any such debate requires the Republicans to show their hand. Do they have plans to lower the income tax threshold? What entitlements do they plan to cut? The GOP been coy about these issues for good reasons: there is no consensus within their own party. Any plans to raise taxes for the poor will inevitably alienate some Republican voters, not to mention the attention that will be drawn back to Mr Romney’s own tax returns.

4.  Even those who sympathise with Mr Romney’s comments will despair of his apparent inability to run a winning election campaign.  There have been too many unforced errors.  This undermines his credibility as a man who ‘gets things done’.

5.  Mr Romney has, so far, failed to define himself in the public’s minds.  In politics, if you don’t define yourself, others will define you.  Because this gaffe plays up to the Democrats’ caricature of a heartless vulture capitalist, the image is likely to stick.

The odds of a Romney victory are getting longer by the day.  GOP congressional candidates will hope that he stops digging, now, before their own campaigns are contaminated.