Clearly, the most memorable moment in U.S. politics over the weekend came in Saturday night’s debate, when Mitt Romney challenged Rick Perry to a $10,000 bet over a line from Romney’s book. It caused an immediate firestorm — for the multi-millionaire vulture capitalist to try to intimidate a rival with his wealth, throwing around a wager worth three months pay for most U.S. workers, only reinforced the perception that he’s the out-of-touch elitist in the race.
Yesterday, not only was the media eager to ponder just how big a screw-up this was, Romney’s critics from both parties pounced. Jon Huntsman’s campaign was first out of the gate with this minute-long video, making the case that Romney was simply wrong on the substance:
Soon after, Rick Perry’s campaign unveiled a minute-long video of its own, arguing that Romney was both wrong and out of touch, adding, “The truth isn’t for sale.”
And by late yesterday, the Democratic National Committee released this video, in which Democrats barely had to add a word — the DNC simply put together a montage of analysis from others, including many Republicans, of Romney’s $10,000 bet.
Notice that some of the media criticism in the DNC’s clip came from Fox News personalities.
Time will tell if this story quickly fades, becoming another blip on the larger campaign radar. But even if it is, the damage has arguably already been done — the ABC debate on Saturday night scored big ratings, which means Romney’s misguided offer was widely seen, and comes just three weeks before the Iowa caucuses.
In light of Newt Gingrich’s recent surge, Team Romney really hoped to use Saturday night’s debate to get back on track. Given the wager and the ensuing attention about how dumb it was, that clearly didn’t happen.
And just to reiterate a point from yesterday, it looked to me like this was Romney just saying what was on his mind when he stuck out his hand and said, “Rick, I’ll tell you what. 10,000 bucks? $10,000 bet?” In other words, for all of Romney’s overly-slick, robotic presentation, I doubt this was a scripted talking point or a prepared response. It was just the candidate being the candidate.
Romney is one of those rare politicians who shouldn’t be himself.