In making these comments, Romney, addressing a room of wealthy donors, seems to have written off the nearly half of Americans he would end up leading were he to win the presidency. However he may have meant it, using words like “victims” and “dependent” sound like thinly veiled criticisms.
And yes, he may have been speaking as a candidate rather than a president when he says his job “is not to worry about those people.” But to some, it could easily leave a different impression, one of a potential president who is not equally concerned for all Americans.
It’s possible that this will be another one of those campaign gaffes that rides a particularly rocky tide of the news cycle and then ebbs away when the next controversy floats in.
After all, Obama’s comments at a private fundraiser back in 2008 about “bitter” voters who “cling to guns or religion” did not keep him from getting elected. At a hastily arranged press conference Monday night, Romney admitted his comments were not “elegantly stated” and were “off the cuff,” saying “of course I want to help all Americans, all Americans have a bright and prosperous future.”
Maybe so. But in a private setting, Romney inadvertently reinforced the narrative—fair or not—that already exists of himself as a wealthy plutocrat. It could leave lasting scars.
There’s a reason President Obama frequently talks about reading 10 letters a night from average Americans struggling in a tough economy. There’s a reason George W. Bush made “compassionate conservatism” a campaign mantra, whatever its real-life application may have been. People want to believe that their leaders care about them, stay up at night worrying about them and (perhaps most important) don’t disdain them—whatever their personal struggles, political philosophies or economic circumstances may be.
More from Jena McGregor and On Leadership:
Romney and ‘the vision thing’
Behind Mitt Romney’s Libya statement
The 2012 Service to America winners
Like On Leadership? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter:
@post_lead | @jenamcgregor | @lily_cunningham