Just miles from campus, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made national news Monday after characterizing President Barack Obama’s supporters as believing they are “victims” who are dependent on government benefits.
The Romney campaign spent much of its Tuesday defending his comments, which were recorded at a private fundraiser in Los Angeles and released by the news organization Mother Jones.
“All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it,” Romney said in the video. “That, that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what … These are people who pay no income tax.”
Almost immediately after Mother Jones posted the story, his remarks were picked up on Twitter accounts and posted to Facebook pages, including those of many students.
Hyehyun Bahng, a sophomore majoring in biology, said she felt that the implications of Romney’s 47 percent comment could hurt his electoral chances.
“I definitely think it can negatively affect him because people often turn these little mistakes into something bigger,” Bahng said. “In the case of presidents, people don’t want them to make little mistakes because they could turn into a big problem if the candidate was talking to ambassadors or powerful people.”
According to presidential politics veteran Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, the Romney campaign’s response to his remarks will determine the speech’s affect on the election.
“Romney is going to need to spend some time in the very short term explaining the point he was trying to make,” Schnur said. “The degree to which he is successful with that explanation is going to determine how much this impacts the campaign going forward.”
Presidential gaffes are nothing new. Ironically, Schnur said, Mitt Romney’s father, Michigan governor George Romney, made one of the most notable gaffes in modern political history during his 1968 presidential bid.
“He was talking about the Vietnam war and talking about how he had been ‘brainwashed’ by generals when he was there,” Schnur said. “The point he was trying to make was that he had been given an unduly optimistic report by generals, but because he used the term ‘brainwashed,’ it caused such a backlash that he was ultimately forced to withdraw from the campaign.”
The simple fact of the mistake, not necessarily what is said alone, can be the problem, other students said.
“The mistake Romney made last night within itself is not a problem, but I think the fact that people pick it up and talk about it makes it a bigger deal,” said Ronell Firouz, a senior majoring in business administration. “The way the media compounds upon it can have an effect on his candidacy.”
Santiago Fernandez, a junior majoring in environmental studies, agreed that the media portrayal of gaffes can be the primary factor in determining voters’ responses.
“The 47 percent commment could throw him off, depending on how the media will portray it to voters,” Fernandez said. “I don’t think the people he is trying to get on his side will appreciate it.”
When covering gaffes, however, the media typically focuses on the opposing candidate’s response, Schnur said, citing Romney’s 47 percent gaffe as well as remarks from Obama earlier in the campaign about businessmen receiving help in creating companies.
“Whether it is Obama and businesses, or Romney and the 47 percent, the media reports on what the candidate said,” Schnur said. “But it’s not until the other side goes after it hard that the coverage tends to saturate.”