POST BY JORDAN DELOATCH
It seems like Mitt Romney’s got 99 problems, and being rich is one. Awful puns aside, Romney might’ve accidentally compounded his recent struggles with yet another characteristically out-of-touch moment during Saturday night’s debate. One thing that can get overlooked in these campaigns is that some of these guys are really freaking rich, but we can sometimes overlook that fact and pretend that they truly identify with the rest of us.
It might be fair to say that Romney broke some sort of fourth money wall in Saturday night’s debate with a $10,000 bet he proposed to Rick Perry (who, to his credit, declined the offerl). The amount of $10,000 manages to fall into that trap of being preposterously high, yet low enough that it can still be taken seriously. (For example, how many kids “bet” a million dollars on a daily basis?). It’s hard to tell whether he was actually serious—though I think there’s a good chance that he was. When he reached out to shake Perry’s hand, he held it out for a couple seconds longer than would be typical for a joke bet. Not even Rick Perry seemed to be able to tell if he was joking or not. (Then again, Rick Perry probably was probably occupied with a mental mantra of “Education! Commerce! Energy!” the whole time.)
Either way, Romney’s bet was a callous move. What does it say about a candidate who’s willing to risk $10,000 (to say he wasn’t supportive of an individual mandate that he himself signed into law) when there are college students who would give anything to have that much debt lifted off their shoulders? When there are millions of American families who simply can’t afford to lose even $1,500, let alone $10,000? (I won’t even begin to talk about the payroll tax decrease the Republicans are suddenly so squeamish about.)
One more question: Has Romney not paid any attention to the Occupy movement? He may not agree with their message, but a politician—particularly one who routinely changes his opinion to better resonate with the public—can’t afford to ignore the basic message that Americans are tired of the rich playing Russian roulette with their money and then plundering from the powerless poor when they accidentally find themselves firing from a loaded chamber.
Much like Rick Perry’s famous “oops” moment, the potency of this gaffe is multiplied by the fact that it so easily fits in with Romney’s perception. He can’t afford to rely on the self-destruction of each and every one of his opponents for the same reason that a team can’t afford to trade baskets while trailing by 10 with 5 minutes to play: There’s just not enough time. Romney is all of a sudden finding himself as an underdog in the GOP race with a matter of weeks to go before the primaries start. Romney might have been able to get away with this sort of gaffe a couple of weeks ago, but if he wants to have a chance at this nomination, he can’t afford to keep trending backward—nor can he even continue trading baskets. He needs to step it up and take it to Gingrich, or he’ll have lost yet another nomination.
But then again, President Obama’s polling better against Gingrich than he is against Romney, so perhaps this is all for the best.