I’m betting that Mitt Romney gave his campaign for the Republican nomination a deadly wound in last night’s umpteenth debate between the Republican candidates to face President Obama in November 2012.
It doesn’t matter if Mitt or Texas Rick was right in their latest little spat over facts. What matters is that by so smugly offering to put $10,000 on the line to back up his assertion, Mitt Romney reminded us in a shockingly brutal manner of the very thing we hate and fear about him: that he was born a one-percenter and then got richer.
In my experience and the experience of most Americans, when most people are so certain of their assertion that they are willing to bet on it, they throw out an amount like ten bucks, twenty bucks, fifty bucks.
But only a child, someone who has a major gambling problem or someone who is really rich would say $10,000 and mean it as Mitt did last night.
Survey after survey is now showing that people are fed up with the current economic regime under which, in good times and bad, the richest one percent get richer and everyone else loses ground. Romney is a one-percenter and he looks like the archetype of a one-percenter. He earned his impressive fortune by doing Wall Street deals that often led to massive layoffs. He often raided good companies for fees, sold them off and sat counting his money while his former corporate wards went into bankruptcy. All if this will surely go through the minds of many people every time they think of Romney’s proposed bet.
The fact that Perry handled it so perfectly only made matters worse for Romney. “I’m not in the betting business” was the right thing to say, the only sane thing to say. And it came from good old country boy Texas Rick. The contrast between Perry and Romney’s rich boy’s bankerly prep boy manner is so obvious on every level because we have seen this kind of behavior from these two archetypes in hundreds of movies and TV shows about the old west and small towns. One version has them at a poker table and Mitt is trying to buy the pot. In another, Mitt wants to hire the socially awkward straight shooter to run people off their farms. In these movie, the Perry character always plays the hero. It was Perry’s finest moment in the campaign by virtue of it being his only fine moment.
As to Romney, I am convinced that he cooked his campaign’s goose in one arrogant and grandiose gesture. I predict that the groundswell of disgust over Romney’s comment will outlive the news day and define his campaign. Seeing that his competition is the corrupt and hypocritical Newt Gingrich, it’s still possible that Romney could win the nomination. I just don’t see it, though. Unless Jon Huntsman’s dad manages to buy the New Hampshire primary, it looks like the Newt. But even if Mitt does win the nomination, I can’t see independents or conservative Democrats voting for a guy who would intimidate his opponent with money during a debate. And I believe that a large horde of poor and rural Republicans will sit on their hands rather than vote for the rich boy.
It’s very possible that “You wanna bet” will be the quote of the campaign, similar to Reagan’s “Are you better off than four years ago?” quote of 1980 or Lloyd Bentson’s zing of Dan Quayle in 1988, “I knew Jack Kennedy and you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
My favorite quote that defined a campaign came in 1968, when Mitt’s Dad, George Romney, went from front runner to nobody in the Republican campaign in a matter of days for saying that he previously supported the Viet Nam War because he had been “brainwashed” during his trips over there. Nobody wants a brainwashed President.
Now the American people (if I may be so bold as to speak for them) don’t mind having a rich man serve as president and often elect them—both Bushes, Jimmy Carter, Jack Kennedy, FDR, we can go back to Washington, Adams and Jefferson, three of the wealthiest men of their time. We just don’t like the rich to rub our noses in it, especially now when it seems that every day brings greater proof that the economic and tax policies of the past 30 years have led to the largest transfer of wealth in recorded history, the money flowing from the poor and the middle class directly into the pockets of the richest one percent of the population.
So at the end of the day, Mitt is following in his father’s tracks. Both men were among the most successful corporate leaders in the dominant industry of the time. Both served as governor of a big northern state. And now it looks as if both will be failed presidential candidates remembered for ruining his big chance with one foolish comment.
Yes, I’m betting that Romney will lose now. But I’m not going to put any money on it.