A much anticipated election debate between Democratic and Republican supporters in Panama will not take place. Planning had been underway long before Mitt Romney's latest embarrassment..
The debate was to have been held in the unusual setting of a church with proponents each using a pulpit to espouse their views on what will be good for the US, and how it will fare under Mitt Romney or Barack Obama.
Questions were to have been put by a panel of local journalists, at the Balboa United Church early next month.
Inevitably there would have been questions, particularly to the Republican speaker, about what media around the world are calling a major blunder by Romney, which has many asking if Romney is heading for the exit.
Diplomatic correspondent Alex Spillius writing in Britain’s conservative Daily Telegraph, reflected the views of many commentators -
As you may well have heard by now, Mitt Romney has made an enormous gaffe that many pundits in the US think will kill off his campaign.
In a video recorded at a fundraising event in May and leaked to the liberal magazine Mother Jones, the Republican candidate dismisses nearly half the nation as spongers and layabouts who “believe they are the victims” and who “will vote for the president no matter what”.
“There are 47 percent who are with him [Obama], 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…. These are people who pay no income tax.”
Most damagingly of all, he tells the $50,000-a-head dinner in Florida: “My job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
As the poll below shows, Romney’s campaign was already in trouble. He has been notoriously poor at connecting with voters and at showing the country the real Mitt. But if that is what this video has exposed, then Romney is indeed the out-of-touch, patronising patrician his critics say he is.
He certainly comes across as a whiner. He appears to have abandoned hope of appealing to poorer Americans, of offering them the promise of the American dream he champions on a daily basis on the stump. He seems to have forgetten that many low income Americans would love to earn more and pay more taxes and lead morally impregnable lives.
His facts are also misleading, as numerous observers point out, including the conservative Daily Caller website.
The figure of 47 per cent refers to those who pay no federal income tax, but ignores the fact that they pay state taxes and indirect taxes. He also apparently fails to realise that it is Republican tax-cutting policy dating back to Ronald Reagan, as well as the poor economy, that has shrunk the tax-paying base.
Romney’s blunder was similar to Barack Obama’s comment in the 2008 – also secretly recorded at a fundraiser - that “white folks cling to their guns and religion” in tough times.
Both were the worst kind of gaffe - when the speaker is caught saying what he really thinks. But Romney’s was longer and more multi-layered. Obama may have been condescending towards the gun-clinging classes, Romney’s attitude towards the poor bordered on contemptuous.
The inevitable damage limitation exercise began last night with a 10pm press conference, at which Romney admitted that his comments were “not elegantly stated”. But he stood by their substance, insisting that he had made similar observations in public without generating controversy.
It should be remembered that there are Americans who will agree with him, though they are unlikely to be in the narrow middle ground where the election will be won and lost.
Bandwagons should generally be avoided, and the Romney candidacy cannot be written off completely with 49 days still to go. But if he does win after this it will rank as one of the most spectacular campaign comebacks ever.