As Mitt Romney reportedly mulls a 2018 Senate bid, his infamous “binders full of women” — actual, physical binders — have surfaced. They weigh a total of 15 pounds, 6 ounces, according to the Boston Globe, which obtained them from a former aide to the 2012 Republican presidential nominee.
Yes, the emergence of a pair of three-ring binders, stuffed with women's resumes, is a reminder of a gaffe Romney committed during a debate five years ago. Touting his efforts to recruit women for government posts during his tenure as Massachusetts governor, Romney awkwardly referred to “whole binders full of women.”
It wasn't clear at the time whether these were literal or metaphorical binders. Either way, the remark suggested that Romney, a veteran of the male-dominated world of private equity, lacked women in his circle and could only hope to hire some by taking deliberate measures.
“We don’t have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented, driven young women,” then-president Barack Obama said on the campaign trail the next day.
That the Boston Globe would put a photo of Romney's binders on the front page — and that so many other news outlets (including this one, obviously) would pick up the story — shows that a politician's poorly chosen words can dog him for a long time.
Speaking of dogs, remember when Romney put his Irish setter on the roof of a station wagon for a family road trip? Of course you do. It happened in 1983, yet it was covered extensively in 2012. That's the point — you never really escape these things.
But consider this counterpoint raised by the Globe's Jim O'Sullivan:
In the Donald Trump era, the notion that Romney paid a political cost for explaining how he had tried to hire more women seems almost far-fetched.
Indeed, the binders' discovery could make voters in deep-red Utah, where Romney might run, nostalgic for a time when the chief criticism of the nation's top Republican was that he tried too hard to promote women.
During the 2016 election, multiple women accused Trump of touching them inappropriately over the years. The Washington Post published a 2005 video in which Trump bragged about being able to “do anything” to women and get away with it because he is famous.
In short, revisiting the “binders” episode makes Romney look like a champion for women, next to Trump. As The Fix's Aaron Blake wrote last week, it is very good to be a non-Trump Republican — especially one named Romney — in Utah right now.
Utah is about equally as anti-Trump as it is pro-Romney. Trump did win the state, but that victory owed entirely to the state's Republican lean. Polls there showed Trump's favorable rating as low as 19 percent and his unfavorable rating as high as 71 percent, largely thanks to Mormons disliking him.
Romney might not be able to put his “binders” comment behind him, but he might not be hurt by it, either.