Mitt Romney’s $10,000 mistake

at 07:54 AM ET, 12/12/2011

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s baffling decision to propose a $10,000 bet with Texas Gov. Rick Perry over a disagreement on health care policy during Saturday night’s Republican presidential debate dominated the after-action analysis of the event.

Perry insisted — as he has done at other debates — that Romney advocated for an individual mandate as governor of Massachusetts. Romney argued that he had not done so then laid down the $10,000 bet to settle things once and for all.

From that moment, Romney’s fate was sealed. But did the former Massachusetts governor just have a bad night? Or will the $10,000 bet continue to haunt him in the final three weeks before the Iowa caucuses? That depends on who you ask.

The Romney team is adamant that no harm has been done. Stuart Stevens, Romney’s lead ad maker, called the proposed bet a “very real moment” in which his candidate “back[ed] somebody down with a bluff bet.”

But Romney himself clearly had the bet on his mind on the campaign trail Sunday in New Hampshire, recounting that his wife told him after the debate that “there are a lot of things you do well...Betting isn’t one of them.”

On Monday in New Hampshire he ramped up his pushback, describing the $10,000 number as “an outrageous number to answer an outrageous charge”.

And even as Romney and his team sought to downplay or downright dismiss the damage done by the $10,000 bet, there were plenty of signs that his rivals wouldn’t let him forget the gaffe any time soon.

Perry’s campaign put out a minute-long web video that repeatedly features Romney making the $10,000 bet comment while the words “one bet you can count on ... the truth isn’t for sale” appear on screen.

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, too, tried to capi­tal­ize — buying the web address “www.10kbet.com” and populating it with articles drawing attention to Romney’s gaffe.

Mary Matalin, an unaligned Republican strategist, said that while the $10,000 bet wasn’t an “implosion,” it did amount to “one more heavy brick in [Romney’s] political backpack”.

Matalin added that much of Romney’s strength in the race to date has been centered on his perceived superiority as a debater, making it easy for undecided Republicans to imagine him battling and beating President Obama on a debate stage. “The display of being bested by a candidate roundly dissed by the chattering classes cannot conjure up anything but scary images of Romney vs. Obama,” she noted.

The other longer-term danger for Romney in the $10,000 bet is that it reinforces a narrative already swirling in the political world: that his wealth makes him out of touch with the economic concerns of average folks.

No matter what the Romney people say, offering a $10,000 bet is, at best, somewhat odd. (You generally either bet someone $1 or $1 million; anywhere in between seems weird and raises eyebrows.)

The bet then could have a similar effect to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) ordering swiss cheese on his cheesesteak or Martha Coakley suggesting Curt Schilling was a Yankees fan — crystallizing for voters that Romney just isn’t one of them.

“The question for voters is will they see it as a trivial moment in a debate, or does the willingness to bet $10,000 show he’s not like middle class people,” said Republican consultant Dan Hazelwood.

On the other hand, that Romney grew up wealthy is not news — he said so himself on Saturday night — and, according to GOP media consultant Chris Mottola, the bet remark had “zero new information” in it and, as a result, would be “inconsequential” in the race. (“The only thing I’ve learned is that I really want to get into a card game with Romney,” joked Mottola.)

Judging the impact of Romney’s bet is tough because it happened only 48 hours ago, which means we are standing too close to it to have any perspective.

Sometimes these debate slip-ups are a blip on the radar, quickly forgotten. Other times they blow up — Hillary Clinton on drivers licenses for illegal immigrants, Perry and “Oops” — and come to define a candidate/candidacy.

Which will this one be? We wouldn’t bet either way.

Obama handicaps Gingrich and Romney: In an interview with CBS’s ”60 Minutes” that aired Sunday, Obama sized up his two most likely competitors in his 2012 reelection bid.

Of Romney, he seemed to be trying to push the idea that the former Massachusetts governor is more of a politician than he lets on.

“He’s had a lot of practice at it,” Obama said. Romney has held office for only four years, but he ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 1994 and president in 2008.

Obama also previewed his campaign’s argument in what promises to be a tough environment for the incumbent.

“Joe Biden has a good expression,” Obama said. “He says, ‘Don’t judge me against the Almighty, judge me against the alternative.’”

Texas map in flux: A late Friday ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the interim Texas congressional map drawn by a three-judge panel in San Antonio, leaving many questions about how the state’s 2012 map will look.

Filing for the March 6 congressional and state legislative primaries had already begun under the interim map, but the Supreme Court offered no guidance as to how the state is to proceed with essentially no map.

The Texas Tribune surmises that the primary will likely have to be moved in order to buy some time — perhaps to May 22, as the state’s attorney general has proposed.

In the meantime, there are scores of candidates who have already filed or were planning to file who now have no idea what districts they will run in.

The blocking of the court-drawn map was a win for Texas Republicans, who drew a more GOP-friendly map that is being challenged by the Justice Department. That interim map was drawn while the Texas GOP’s map is litigated.

WaPo’s ‘Contenders’ series: Be sure to check out the Washington Post’s ”Contenders” series, featuring profiles of all seven of the major candidates who remain.

Fixbits:

Gingrich’s campaign says its candidate was recently quoted as an anonymous “senior aide in the Gingrich camp.”

Romney has been endorsed by Manchester, N.H., Mayor Ted Gatsas.

Romney says he lived on a $110-per-month budget when he was a missionary in France.

Michele Bachmann keeps up the “Newt Romney” attacks.

Gingrich lands a top former staffer to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Perry is all about Iowa.

Crossroads GPS is up with a new ad on Solyndra.

Jewish Republicans are running in at least three of the GOP’s top-targeted Senate races.

Must-reads:

Mitt Romney, the problem solver” — Ann Gerhart, Washington Post

Rick Perry is confident, but is he ready?” — Michael Leahy, Washington Post

Ron Paul’s surprising candidacy” — Dan Balz, Washington Post

How much does organization really mean in Iowa?” — Chris Cillizza, Washington Post

Playing with mud: the hobbyist oppo researcher” — Jason Zengerle, New York Magazine

Iowa Evangelical Voters Torn Over ‘Baggage’ of Gingrich Affair” — John McCormick, Reuters

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