Whether we have one year, four years or eight years left of Mitt Romney on the public stage, we already know the signature of Mitt Romney’s public persona — the Mitt-ism.
All politicians have gaffes. But Romney’s are of a character all their own.
As a fabulously wealthy man running to be the president of a country that prides itself on its middle class identity, Romney is permanently striving for the common touch while somehow keeping it real about just how different his life is from the average Americans’.
Alas, it’s a balance he has a very hard time striking.
In the now classic model of a Mitt-ism, Romney stumbles his way into a painfully candid expression of what he really seems to think about wealth, privilege and economics. In other cases, his cringeworthy efforts to identify with ordinary folk collapse under the weight of their own preposterousness.
With so many and with the voting now underway, we’ve decided to rate them individually.
1.) “I’m also unemployed” June 16, 2011
A lesser-known Mitt-ism. Trying to commiserate. But not really. Confusing unemployment with being independently wealthy. Not great when unemployment is still at stratospheric levels. Not the most damaging Mitt-ism. We rate this one “tone deaf”, 2 stars.
2.) “Corporations are people, my friend” August 11, 2011
Damaging, yes. Revealing, definitely. Yes, corporate profits all make their way, in one fashion or another, to old-fashioned living, breathing people. And corporations are legal persons. But c’mon. Corporations aren’t people. They’re corporations. This Mitt-ism gets a 5 star for iconic, memorable value. And it even comes with video.
3.) “I’m running for office for Pete’s sake, we can’t have illegals” October 18, 2011
Like the Velvet Underground until the mid-1980s, a hidden classic only well known to specialists and aficionados. Back in the early days of the campaign when Romney was still making his anti-immigration bones with Rick Perry, he slipped into a classically candid Mitt moment when he remembered canning the firm who had illegal aliens working the ground of his property. Fine, use illegals Romney seemed to say. But, Dear God, man, I’m running for office! You know how this works, man!
Destined to remain a cult favorite and never catch on with the masses, it was still deeply revealing. A totally fair hit. We rate it 3 stars.
4.) “I’ll tell you what, ten-thousand bucks? $10,000 bet?” December 10, 2011
You ever made a $10,000 bet? Neither have we.
Mitt got hit pretty hard for this one at the time because it came during the height of the Newt surge when people thought Gingrich might actually bring Romney down. Maybe $10,000 was just a taunt because Mitt knew he couldn’t lose. And even Rick Perry, who has somehow made a bundle during his tenure in office, could manage a $10,000 bet.
So reasonably revealing and a genuine Mitt-ism. But not one of the classics. We rate it a 1.5 stars.
5.) “I like being able to fire people” January 9, 2012
The Mitt-ism that proves the rule. The words purely on their own are about as toxic as you can imagine — especially for Mitt Romney, whose business model as a private equity guy actually is about firing people. Still, Romney was talking about being able to choose or can health care insurers — something a lot of Americans would like to be able to do. Somehow he just stumbled into saying it in the worst possible way. Maybe habits just die hard. Or maybe firing people is fun after all.
Because it clearly wasn’t what he meant and thus it’s not clearly a cluelessly candid statement of actual belief, it doesn’t qualify as a bona-fide Mitt-ism. We rate it 1 stars.
6.) “There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip” January 8, 2012
We guess his heart was in the right place. But c’mon, Mitt. Let’s just agree that in the realm of your professional life you’re talented, lucky and basically things have been wall-to-wall awesome. You’ve never had to worry about getting a pink slip. And if you did, the severance package would probably be more than most people make in a lifetime. Now let’s talk about abolishing Obamacare and privatizing unemployment insurance.
This is a classic in the subcategory of Mitt-ism: the hapless and totally uncredible attempt to identify with the problems of average folk. We rate it 3.5 stars.
7.) “It’s for the great middle class - the 80 to 90 percent of us in this country” September 21, 2011
Mitt Romney’s net worth is not public knowledge — and as he’s stated several times, it won’t be public knowledge for as long as he can help it.
But America knows he’s rich. Really rich. Rich enough to be well beyond the 80 or 90 percent of “us” in the country.
Sure, he was talking about the country as a whole, but it came off as crass, and wholly laughable. A solid 2.5 stars.
8.) “I’ve always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will.” April 5, 2007
This is an overlooked Mitt-ism from the last campaign after Mitt overplayed his hand in trying to identify with the gun rights crowd. After declaring himself a hunter — i.e., common man of the people — Mitt perhaps realized he’d gone too far and tried to put his he-man-ness in context: “I’m not a big-game hunter. I’ve made that very clear. I’ve always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will. I began when I was 15 or so and I have hunted those kinds of varmints since then. More than two times.” The video capture the exquisite awkwardness of a true Mitt-ism.
Use of the word “varmints” alone qualifies this for 3 stars.
9.) “Don’t try and stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom.” October 17, 2011
As a solution to the housing crisis, Mitt’s policy frankness wasn’t accidentally revealing or a mistake. A politically unpopular policy statement — even when phrased in an especially tone deaf way — doesn’t meet the rigorous standards for a Mitt-ism. 0 stars.
10.) “Who let the dogs out? Who, who”
This one is a little bonus from the last time the Guy-Who-Never-Wanted-To-Run-For-President was running for president. We’ll let the video speak for itself.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.