The Washington Post

Mitt Romney’s darkest hour

In politics when it rains, it pours.

The release of a recording of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney at a private fundraiser in May telling donors that "there are 47 percent of the people...who are dependent on government, who believe that they are the victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them...I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives" is the latest body blow for a campaign that can't seem to get out of its own way of late.

Consider what has happened to Romney since the Democrats concluded their convention in Charlotte earlier this month:

* The release of a Romney polling memo that seemed decidedly defensive over the idea of a convention bounce for the incumbent.

* A too-quick statement regarding the tumult in Libya that polling suggests was not looked on favorably by the voting public.

* A Politico story laying bare strife within the campaign that hit Sunday night.

And now comes this video tape featuring Romney offering a blunt assessment of his economic worldview to a group of wealthy donors -- an assessment that is more candid, more calculating and more conservative than the GOP nominee has been in public.

Taken individually, none of the incidents referenced above are that big a deal in the constant swirl of politics. Taken together, they paint an image of a campaign in disarray and a candidate not ready for primetime. Context always matters in politics and the context in which this videotape has landed is just plain awful for Romney's campaign.

Before we get too much further, it's worth taking a step back to say that there is little evidence that missteps -- whether minor or major -- have an obvious and immediate impact on polling in this race.

Thanks to our friend John Sides at the Monkey Cage Blog, we have evidence of that lack of movement here:

So, it's worth taking the immediate analysis of what it all means for Romney -- including this one -- cum grano salis.

Caveats dispatched, we do think there are at least two real impacts of Romney's brutal past two weeks -- even if they are not evident in polling.

The first -- and most important -- is that this story will serve as a major distraction for a Romney campaign who just today announced its plans to re-boot itself by offering more specifics on what he would do on the economy if elected president.

"We do think the timing is right to reinforce more specifics about the Romney plan for a strong middle class," senior Romney adviser Ed Gillespie told reporters on a conference call Monday morning that now seems like a millenium ago.

Whether or not you believe Romney offered a window into his true feelings about the election (and the electorate) in the leaked video from the fundraiser (and we will leave that up to others to decide), it's impossible to see how Romney's comments don't dominate the political conversation for the next 48-72 hours -- and maybe longer.

That reality virtually ensures a second straight week lost to off-message stories that are far afield from the economic focus that the Romney campaign is hoping to lean on in the final weeks of the race.  Mitt Romney isn't going to win this race on foreign policy and he certainly isn't going to win it on too-candid comments about his view of the economic realities present in the electorate. Any one -- Republican, Democrat or Independent -- who tells you differently is just wrong.

Wasting two weeks when there are only seven weeks left in a race that even the most loyal Republicans acknowledge they are currently losing -- albeit it narrowly -- is a major problem for Romney.

The second way the leaked video impacts the race is that it fuels the "gang who can't shoot straight" narrative that Politico began with its story and that the Romney campaign was hoping to quickly extinguish with its conference call Monday morning.

If donors and other political professionals were skittish about where the race generally -- and Romney's bid specifically -- stood on Monday morning, you can imagine they will be worked up into a full lather by Tuesday morning.

The video will fuel the growing sentiment within the Republican chattering class that Romney is in the process of losing a winnable race. That means the second-guessing that goes on privately in every campaign will go more public. And the more public it becomes, the longer it takes Romney and his team to move beyond unhelpful process stories focused on whether his own party thinks he's blowing it.

To be clear: Declaring the race over -- as some people will do in the next 48 hours -- is a mistake. Seven weeks remain before voters vote and what looks determinative to the outcome now might look very different come November 1.

But, anyone who thinks that Romney isn't weathering his darkest days as a candidate right now would be sorely mistaken.

Read more from PostPolitics

Read excerpts from the leaked Romney fundraiser videos

Romney talks bluntly about Obama supporters in leaked videos

Romney fans wince at unforced errors

Fact Checker: Romney way off base with '47 percent' comment

The Take: How Mitt Romney can bounce back

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.

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