It is becoming increasingly clear that in unscripted settings Mitt Romney is highly prone to looking awkward and saying the wrong things. Take for example, his statement that ‘middle income’ people are those earning around $250,000 per year.
The median income in the US is somewhere in the range of $45,000. Even if he did not know the precise figure (which in itself would be shocking for someone running for president), he had to have been aware of the intense debates over the renewal of the Bush tax cuts, when the issue of extending those cuts to those in the top 2% of income earners was the key sticking point. That group was repeatedly identified as those earning $250,000 or more.
So how could he say such a stupid thing, once again showing himself to be out of touch? I think it may be that the part of the brain that we use to check our instinctive reactions to events to see if they correspond to reality may be working very slowly in his case. As a result, unless he has plenty of time to work on his response, he is more prone to go with his gut feelings. In the circles he moves in, people who earn a mere $250,000 a year must be considered to be of modest circumstances, since they may own only one home, not have their own yacht or a plane, have no servants, and no elevators for their cars. In his mind, they must be so far down the income scale that they must be near ‘the middle’, like New York City sophisticates who think that once you cross the Hudson river into New Jersey, you are already in ‘middle America’.
Even when unexpected events happen that could alter the race, like the murder of US diplomats in Libya, Romney manages to mess that up too, by letting his instinct to blame Obama not be filtered by considerations of how it might be perceived.
This is why I am surprised that the Romney camp seems to be banking so heavily on the debates as a means of vaulting into the lead in the polls. Though the debates are debates in name only, being more like dueling press conferences, even in that controlled setting letting Romney loose against a highly disciplined Barack Obama has to be a major risk. It may be that they think they have no choice. The debates may be their only chance and they have to make do the best they can. But you can be sure they will be off-stage biting their nails.
This cartoon by John Deering via GoComics pretty much must be capturing the mood in the Romney camp.