Why Romney's Video Comments Have Killed His Candidacy

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney boards his campaign charter plane in Newark, N.J., F
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney boards his campaign charter plane in Newark, N.J., Friday, Sept. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The reason the Romney campaign is now curtains is not the tone of those disdainful things he said about struggling Americans when he was behind closed doors with campaign contributors in Florida. We already knew that Romney views less fortunate people as losers and parasites.

The reason the video kills what remains of his bid for the White House is because of what it tells us about his understanding of the basic facts of the American situation: He thinks there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the economy, and there are plenty of lucrative opportunities out there for anyone willing to work for them.

That misunderstanding collides too directly with nearly every perspective a voter might bring to the polls, regardless of their partisan identification, their age, their gender, their race or their ideology.

Until now, the campaign has featured a sharp divide over policy prescriptions but not so much over descriptions of the state of play. Romney has sought to hand Obama responsibility for a bleak economy. Obama has argued that Romney would take us back to worse. But the basic inadequacy of economic opportunity has not been challenged.

But what Romney just got caught saying on video is that everything is pretty much fine. If it's not fine for you and your family, that's your own whiny fault. Publicly, he blames Obama for monkey-wrenching free enterprise, as if it's the president's fault that the economy is such a mess. Privately -- in front of people who own yachts and humidors -- he blames those who are not doing well for their own struggles.

Given how many are not doing well -- 80 percent of the workforce has seen their wages decline in real terms over the last quarter-century, and the average household has seen 40 percent of its wealth disappear during the Great Recession -- this is politically incendiary stuff. It lumps together people who have never missed a day of work in their lives with the worst stereotypical version of a welfare queen living on the public dole. Goodbye, Mitt. Go and pursue your own opportunities in the private sector.

Ezra Klein has adroitly handled the factual vacuity of Romney's claim that roughly half the country pays no taxes, noting that almost two-thirds of these people were working last year and handed over payroll taxes, making their effective tax burden -- 15.3 percent -- higher than Romney's 13.9 percent.

But forget those facts for a second and focus on the implications of Romney's message. In an America where nearly half the population is content to mooch off the government -- paying no taxes while using their food stamps for caviar and their Section 8 vouchers for suites at the Four Seasons -- the policy solution is straightforward: Yank the safety net and make those parasites go get one of those fabulous jobs just lying around for the taking.

By selecting as his vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan, who wants to gut Medicaid, and by broadcasting a fact-free attack on Obama that centers on claims that the president wants to unleash welfare checks like confetti, Romney has already let us know that he regards the poor as deadbeats. These toxic comments at the fundraiser in Florida tell us that he sees the middle class in similar terms.

He simply does not grasp that tens of millions of Americans make so little from their jobs that they pay no federal income taxes. He does not get that many people are saturated in debt and require help to get housing, health care and groceries -- not because they are lazy or morally degenerate or carry a sense of entitlement, but because their paychecks are inadequate.

For Romney's campaign, the video has produced a fatal narrative, one that adds momentum to others of its type in crucial pieces of the geography.

Those people who used to work in factories in Michigan and Ohio, where they earned enough to support their families but who now work at Walmart earning enough to qualify for food stamps, Romney just branded them lazy.

Those homeowners who are upside-down in Florida and Nevada and Colorado because someone lost a job that had health benefits and took another that doesn't, which forced them to tap their home equity to cover an unplanned illness: They think society owes them happy days, Romney just said.

Those students whose parents do not earn enough to pay for college, so they have to borrow from a federally backed program to finance higher education: Romney just called them societal leeches.

We just got a glimpse of the America that Mitt Romney sees from his privileged perch, one where anyone unable to attend a $50,000-a-plate fundraiser simply hasn't tried hard enough. That's too much of a contrast from the America in which most people live. It's going to be hard to explain to regular people.

Which is why this is the end of the Romney candidacy.