When Mitt Romney speaks off the cuff …

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.


  1. julian says

    I never notice “gaffs” but with Romney it seems pretty pronounced. I’m not gonna watch the debates (as they suck) but I really do hope someone brings up his past business practices. However rehearsed his replies might be, Obama is sure to get in a few barbs over it.

  2. blehdude says

    I’ve said it before. Obama will kick ass in november. polls show about even, but the likability thing is indicative. i just can’t see how the average joe can think that romney will be the better prez.

  3. Lou Jost says

    I am no fan of Romney, but there are enough real reasons to attack him that we don’t need to use questionable ones. Romney uses the same definition of “middle class” as Obama, with an upper limit of 200k-250k. The news media that initially reported Romney’s “gaffe” later retracted their stories when they listened carefully to the transcript. The Atlantic wrote of Romney’s response:

    “Middle income is $200,000 to $250,000 and less,” he said.

    The “and less” part got ignored by many commentators. Here is the ABC transcript of the interview:

    GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Is $100,000 middle income?

    MITT ROMNEY: No, middle income is $200,000 to $250,000 and less.

    I think bringing up things like this discredits us; we need to be scrupulously correct when we argue against Romney’s merits, or our arguments will backfire. I am sure that you agree.

  4. Rodney Nelson says

    There are some people who are not good at impromptu talking and Romney is one of them. He’s good at giving speeches but doesn’t do well talking off the cuff.

  5. Chiroptera says

    Wow! Deja vu all over again!

    I distinctly remember essentially the same cartoon during Reagan campaign!

  6. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Lou Jost,

    So, both candidates consider that people who earn more than 98% of the population are “middle income” or “middle class”. That tells you just about all you need to know about American politics.

  7. Lou Jost says

    Yes, their “middle class” is very inclusive. I don’t know what its lower limit is for Obama. For Romney, apparently the lower limit is zero.

  8. david says

    While I disagree with most of the things Mitt says, on this one he’s pretty much in the right. $250k may be 5 times the median household income, but a family with an income of $250k still has “middle class” concerns – probably they’re worried about paying for college for their kids, paying down the mortgage, what would happen if they got laid off, and whether they can afford to retire. Their standard of living may be much higher than that of people at the median, but the essence of their financial situation is similar. “Upper class” financial issues don’t kick in until much higher income levels.

  9. Kimpatsu says

    Mano, I would have thought that the point of the debates is that the candidates can’t refuse to do them. At the last British general election three years ago, the Labour Party candidate Gordon Brown was known to be a piss-poor public speaker, so his election team bruited that he would not be attending the debates, leaving only the Lib Dem and Tory candidates to speak, whereupon the TV producer behind the debates threatened to “empty chair” him. As this would have been even worse PR, Brown reluctantly agreed to participate–and promptly put his foot in his mouth.
    Would the same not be true of Romney? Failure to participate would enable Obama to say his opponent was afraid to face him.

  10. Anonymous Atheist says

    This interpretation of Romney’s statement seems very flawed to me.

    “GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Is $100,000 middle income?
    MITT ROMNEY: No, middle income is $200,000 to $250,000 and less.”

    He started with a ‘No’ to whether $100k is included in ‘middle income’. Then followed with a range of what he would include in ‘middle income’: $200k ‘to’ $250k. And then, it seems to me, he realized he was saying something he shouldn’t have, so threw in the ‘or less’ at the end to get out of it.

    Otherwise it makes no sense to phrase that statement that way. It would’ve been something like “Yes, middle income is [number below $100k] to $250k.”

  11. Mano Singham says

    No, in the US too the presidential ‘debates’ have become an institution and no candidate can refuse to participate.

    Of course, we thought that the release of several years tax returns had also become standard…

  12. jamessweet says

    You answered your own question: The debates are the only active option the Romney campaign has available to them, the only factor within their control that could tip the scales. It seems far-fetched to think that Romney can “win” them, but what other choice do they have other than to sit on their hands and wait for an October surprise?

    This is all not to say that it’s hopeless for dear ol’ Mitt; the election is close enough that it really wouldn’t take much in the way of external events to swing it the other way. But I’m sure Team Romney would much rather have it be something under their control than just some random event.

  13. trucreep says

    I think if you look at the way Romney speaks, his $200,000 – $250,000 and less comment seems normal for him. I think it was more of a “not wanting to have the exact same position as Obama” moment when he said between $200 and $250.

    I don’t know, there’s so much to attack Romney on that misconstruing what he said here seems frivolous. Makes the left look just as bad as the right IMO.

    He said $200,000 – $250,000 and less. Regardless of his intentions, that’s what he defined it as. So we should be sure to include the “and less” part, otherwise we’re not being very honest with ourselves.

  14. invivoMark says

    The hell they do!

    I’ve been over this before. A family can live quite comfortably in any major city in the world on an income of $100,000 before taxes. An income of $250,000 is an extra $150,000 on top of that. That’s just extra, a bonus that is handed to the family every single year. Even after taxes that’s $100,000. If someone handed you $100,000 right now, would you know what to do with it? Would you be able to spend it all right away? Within a month? Because I wouldn’t.

    You can raise a child from 0-18 on $200,000. That means that if you just refrain from buying yachts for two years, you get to raise a child. You can get your kid through a decent university for much less than that (it’s easy, don’t send them to Yale – the education is no better at Yale anyway). Or, hell, you can do it like the rest of America does it – have your kids pay their own damn way. That way they don’t grow up to be spoiled brats who think they’re entitled to everything.

    If you’re earning $250,000 a year, and you still have “middle class concerns”, then you’re bad at managing money. Period.

  15. smrnda says

    Absolute bullshit. The only reason why a family with that level of $$$ would ‘struggle’ at all is if they deliberately set out to use expensive substitutes for things like food, housing, etc. (like going out and eating for $100 a meal for a night out instead of say, $10 or $20) or if they blew money on luxuries. My parents made six figures, but we lived on around 40,000 a year and all of us kids got to go to college with zero financial strain. The secret? We lived like normal middle class people, we didn’t go out and spend 4 times as much on everything and then complain that ‘we struggle too.’

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