Politics is a gotcha business, so Mitt Romney has no one to blame but himself if we spend the next 10 months seeing political ads with the GOP frontrunner’s comment that “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.” When taken out of context, the quote seems to show the wealthy Romney as an insufferable plutocrat who takes pleasure in handing out pink slips to the downtrodden. One can imagine ads depicting long lines of fired valets, maids, and footmen who have displeased Mitt.
Of course, he wasn’t talking about firing the guy who shines his shoes or presses his pants but giving every American the option to fire their insurance provider. All he was trying to do was to point out that rather than be forced to accept a government plan, most Americans would prefer to choose their own insurance and hold those service providers accountable. Romney is absolutely right about this, but he must expect that his words will be twisted to portray him as a real-life version of Charles Montgomery Burns, Homer’s boss at the nuclear power plant on “The Simpsons.” Like his cringe-inducing offer to bet Rick Perry $10,000 during one of the debates, Romney should know any words that pass his lips that could buttress claims he is an out-of-touch rich guy will be used against him.
While the gaffe shouldn’t be blown out of proportion, the quote illustrates one of Romney’s recurring problems: his inability to connect with ordinary voters. Though his ideas are on target and, in fact, if properly presented, highly appealing to the public, at times Romney comes across as a man who just doesn’t know how to talk to the public. Considering that he’s been in public life for nearly two decades, it’s an unfortunate trait not to have dropped somewhere along the way.
This won’t decide the GOP nomination, let alone the presidential contest. But, as opposed to the tawdry neo-socialist smears about Romney’s career as a venture capitalist that Newt Gingrich’s allies have been promoting, Romney’s inability to properly gauge public perceptions is a major obstacle to his election as president. Of course, it’s not nearly as damaging as the flaws of his opponents that have put Romney on the fast track to the nomination. But those looking for explanations for the reasons why Romney has not quite closed the deal with the majority of Republicans can do no better than to study his inability to avoid foolish phrases such as this one.