Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

It's not all over for Romney

By Timothy Stanley, Special to CNN
updated 10:59 AM EDT, Wed September 19, 2012
Mitt Romney boards his plane in Cleveland, Ohio, before taking off for Boston on September 14.
Mitt Romney boards his plane in Cleveland, Ohio, before taking off for Boston on September 14.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tim Stanley: Mitt Romney's secretly taped remarks hurt his cause but aren't fatal
  • He says Romney may find, like other politicians, that gaffes often don't stick
  • Polls in recent days show the race remains close, Stanley says
  • Stanley: Voters remain focused mostly on the economy, and that could be a Romney strength

Editor's note: Timothy Stanley is a historian at Oxford University and blogs for Britain's The Daily Telegraph. He is the author of "The Crusader: The Life and Times of Pat Buchanan."

(CNN) -- This election should have been a walkover for the Republicans. The economy is sluggish and the United States is beset with crises abroad. Yet, Mitt Romney has committed one gaffe after another, almost as if he actually wants to lose. Perhaps the multi-millionaire has decided that the White House is too small for him.

On Monday night, Romney was hit with what we might call a "pre-gaffe" when a private statement that he made months ago suddenly hit the Web. The video shows Romney apparently dismissing the 47% of Americans who he says don't pay federal income taxes as freeloaders. For someone who is often portrayed as cynical and uncaring, this is not good news. What will we see next? Leaked footage of Romney stealing candy from a baby?

There's cause for Republicans to panic. Some commentators are starting to ask, "Did Romney just lose the election?" When I first saw the "47%" video, I wrote that it had to damage Romney's already poor likeability ratings and maybe even cost him the White House. But, after a couple of days of reflection, I think there's still reason for Republicans to have hope. Not least because the polls point to a closer election than the headlines do. But I'll come to that in a moment.

Timothy Stanley
Timothy Stanley

First, it's helpful to put the "47%" speech into historical perspective, which suggests that "gaffes never matter." Every campaign has a moment when the candidate says something they shouldn't have, and it isn't necessarily the end of the road.

Opinion: Romney better off as a Latino?

In April 2008, in the middle of his primary race against Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama gave a speech in which he said that poverty caused "bitter" people to "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them." His opponents went wild, but this kind of "cat out of the bag" statement tends to matter far more to fervent activists than it does to ordinary voters. After all, Obama won the primary and the general election.

Four years later, it's only Republican activists who still say they are "proud to be clinging to my guns and religion" -- as if the statement has any contemporary relevance. In 2016, Democratic activists will probably be driving around with faded bumper stickers that read, "47 Percent -- And Proud!" The rest of us will have long forgotten what that means.

How does Romney bounce back?
Woodward: Romney is dissing the base
Who Romney's 47% really are

Over time, sober analysis might slowly turn in Romney's favor, too. Consider how Obama's words were taken out of context. He was really making a case for why liberals had to renew their efforts to improve people's finances, "to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives."

Likewise, Romney was actually arguing that there was no point pitching his low tax policy to the 47% of Americans who already don't pay income taxes because ... they don't pay taxes.

What he meant by "I don't have to worry about them," was that he didn't need to court their vote. He wasn't saying that if he saw them begging in the street he'd drive his limo straight on by.

In fact, the "47%" speech reads a lot better on the page than it sounds on the video. Part of Romney's problem isn't the content of his ideas, but the ubiquitous context of wealth and power. His host was a one-percenter with a taste for extravagant parties, and Romney delivered his line as if sharing the inner workings of a Ponzi scheme.

Despite Romney's personality problem, he isn't doing nearly as badly in the polls as the punditry suggests. In fact, the day after the 47% video leaked, Gallup released a poll that showed the president only 1 percentage point ahead of the Republican challenger. Ironically, the pollster also reported that he has surprising support among people with low incomes. This would seem to prove that Obama's convention bounce was only temporary and that he remains vulnerable.

More importantly, the public hasn't punished Romney for a serious gaffe he made over Egypt. Critics accused him of jumping the gun when he lambasted a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo condemning a film considered offensive to Islam -- protests against which later resulted in the death of four Americans in Libya. If they're prepared to forgive him for that snafu, perhaps they'll ignore this one, too.

Take a look at the electoral map and you'll see that Obama has momentum in the swing states. But not much. According to RealClearPolitics' average of polls, he's ahead 4.2 percentage points in Ohio, 3 points in Virginia, 2.7 points in Wisconsin, and 1.4 points in Florida. That puts Romney well within striking distance and that's even before he's had a chance to land some punches in the debates.

Opinion: How Romney really feels about Republicans

Never underestimate the power of events or the flexibility of polls. We don't know what's going to happen between now and November, and the recent crises in the Middle East show how unsettled things are. Around this point in 1980, Carter was running even with Reagan. Things changed then; things can change now.

Ultimately, Romney still has an advantage when it comes to the grand narrative of this campaign. A lot of the 2012 election has been about character and culture -- which candidate do you like best and where do they stand on same-sex marriage or abortion. But voters consistently tell pollsters that the issue they really care about is the economy. As long as they actually vote on that matter -- and as long as unemployment remains high -- Romney is in with a chance. Republicans shouldn't give up hope just yet.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Timothy Stanley.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:42 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT