From Day 1, all of Mitt Romney’s foes had a clear narrative about him—he was a callous, heartless, elitist, vulture capitalist. In other words, “a dick.”
The stage was set by Occupy with their “99 percent” narrative, which allowed Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich to get mileage with their “vulture capitalist” attacks against Romney before the party establishment shut them down.
But it’s been the liberal establishment that has cemented that narrative, from the genuinely liberal media, to the Democratic Party, to the big money groups (from Super PACs to labor unions to progressive issue groups). It’s been an easy narrative to work with, given that Mitt Romney is genuinely a dick. From the way he treated his lessers at prep school to his tenure at Bain, from the way he demeaned NASCAR fans to the insufferable entitlement of his wife—all of that has allowed us to paint a picture of Romney that has left him the most unpopular GOP nominee in modern polling history, and the first to have higher unfavorable than favorable ratings.
And why is that narrative important? Because as people become aware of such narratives, they then try to decide whether it’s legit. If you can reinforce a negative narrative, you’re winning. Hence, the importance of the 47 percent video.
Mitt Romney’s semantic misadventure with the “47%” helped alienate some of the narrow band of undecided voters whom the Republican needs to beat President Obama in November.
And how did that video alienate those undecided voters? By solidifying the negative Romney narrative in their minds:
“I don’t want the presidential candidates to be average Americans,” he concluded, “but I at least want them to understand what exactly … I am going through so they don’t look like a … in front of everyone.” Michael used a word to describe Romney we don’t publish at The Times.
That word is probably “dick.” But “asshole” would work as well.
Tim, 57, said he and his wife had “worked all our lives and played by the rules.” Though he voted for Ronald Reagan and considered Romney, Tim said he now feels “threatened by this person and what he is liable to do.”
“It just validated things I had felt about him before,” said Tim.
The word “validated” is key here—a narrative is only as good as the ability to consistently slot new developments into it. This guy wasn’t completely oblivious to the president contest. He already had negative feelings about Romney but still remained undecided about whether to support him. The 47 percent video was the final push he needed.
Thus, the reason the 47 percent video was so powerful is that it validated the entire Romney narrative, every last bit of it. Without that existing narrative, the video might’ve been as impactful as that ancient and irrelevant video of Obama saying he wanted to “redistribute wealth.”
Now let’s look at the conservative narrative against Barack Obama—he’s an incompetent bumbler in way over his head! But he’s also a ruthless communist hell-bent on destroying capitalism. He’s a secret Muslim! But he associated with a racist Christian preacher. He’s not even American, doesn’t understand our values and was probably born in Kenya! But he’s a corrupt Chicago street thug.
It’s quite obvious why Republicans can’t get any traction against a president who should’ve been, by all measures, vulnerable this year. If you’re an undecided voter, you’ve got two messages hitting you. The first is all about Romney’s immense wealth and inability to connect or even understand people like you. The other is a “throw shit against the wall to see what’ll stick” mishmash of crazy.
Is it any wonder that our side is winning?
But here’s the thing—our narrative against Romney has the benefit of being true, and Romney has a proclivity of reinforcing it on a daily basis, literally. Meanwhile, none of the GOP narratives against Obama are true, thus the only way they get reinforced is through repetition of the same old baseless and long-discredited claims. It’s not like Obama will suddenly announce a pilgrimage to Mecca, or have afternoon tea with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. He’s not going to shut down the stock exchange or vomit on a foreign head of state. The birthers aren’t going to find anything remotely looking like “evidence” anytime soon, or ever.
Thus conservatives, frustrated that the nation doesn’t see Obama like they do, simply amp up the volume, getting shriller and more unhinged. They try their once-successful standby, the veiled appeal to racism, by insinuating that Obama is weakening welfare requirements. They bizarrely claim he wants to destroy Medicare. They shriek that he’s weak on national security.
But none of that conflicting mishmash is working. For a party and movement that once enjoyed enviable success in setting and reinforcing narratives (remember “Gore is an exaggerator”?), this utter fail is nothing short of remarkable. It’s not like conservative message-meister Frank Luntz can get the tea party crazies on the same script.
But of course, they can’t run on what really drives them to insanity about Obama. Though in this day and age, fewer and fewer people care that the president is black. Heck, they’re not blind. They’ve figured it out.