Definition of “gaffe” – when a politician tells the truth.
Actually, there are several kinds of gaffes:
1. Joe Biden gaffes. Joe is a buffoon; everybody knows that Joe is a buffoon; he gets a pass.
2. Intentional gaffes – or at least ones where the gaffer knowingly applies over the top spin with the expectation that the media will give him / her a pass. Example: the assaults on US embassies and consulates from Morocco to Jakarta, with mobs burning American flags, chanting “Death to America”, and hanging President Obama in effigy do not reflect an anti-American attitude or criticism of Obama’s policies. After all, he gave a great speech and has a big advantage over Romney on foreign policy.
3. Gaffes when speaking among friends (or assumed friends) which reflect a politically incorrect point of view.
– Mitt Romney’s comment that voters who pay no federal income taxes or are dependent on the government for free stuff are unlikely to vote for him. The error was probably in using a 47% figure since it is more complex than that. Mitt’s “bad” – and a damaging one.
– President Obama’s comment on Univision that he can’t change Washington from the inside – as an excuse for why he hasn’t even tried to live up to his promises on immigration reform. What? He is the president isn’t he? And he had both houses of Congress for two years didn’t he?
– Obama’s earlier comment that small business owners didn’t build their businesses. It is a fair point that government helps create the enabling environment, but does he really have so little respect for the efforts and contributions of individuals?
There are some obvious lessons here:
1. In the age of iPhones and Twitter there is no “friendly audience”. All is public.
2. The mainstream media is not going to treat Democratic and Republican comments equally. This Sunday’s talk shows were full of Romney’s 47% comment with nary a comment on Obama’s Benghazi mess or his criticism in the Univision interview which included a surprising Hispanic sensitivity to the Fast and Furious scandal as well as his failure on immigration reform.
3. Gaffes hurt most when they reinforce a negative image that has been established by opposition advertising – Romney the heartless plutocrat; Obama the anti-business socialist.
4. It is essential that the Romney campaign be about the issues, and not let the Democrats make the discussion be all about Romney’s failings or the horse race. Other Republicans have been complicit in their public criticism of the campaign – if they have complaints, an in-house phone call would do a lot more good for the campaign, if not for the commentator’s public profile. For those who think that supporters should support during the peak of the battle, remember Peggy Noonan et al.
The upcoming debates will provide a great opportunity for Romney to speak directly to 50 million people without the filter of the media. There will be some room for nuance in what he says. There is some fear that the moderators – Jim Lehrer of PBS; Candy Crowley of CNN; and Bob Scheiffer of CBS – will tilt the stage, but Mitt will have the microphone. For those of us who believe that his policies and demonstrated capabilities are more in line with what the American people want (and if you doubt it, read this Politico polling), this will be the moment.
This week’s video is Mitt Romney’s stunningly good presentation at this week’s Clinton Global Initiative Conference. It is a bit long (22 minutes), but shows a great depth of thought about foreign policy and the opportunity for the government and private companies to jointly foster middle class prosperity in emerging countries. Send it to your “undecided” friends.