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 6:45 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT