Mitt’s Money

Lot’s of interesting stuff being written about how Mitt’s wealth, low tax rates, etc., may play out in the general election.  I enjoyed Greg Sargent’s take:

At a time when Democrats are salivating to paint their opponent as the candidate of the one percent, the GOP is set to nominate a candidate who regularly says things that (fairly or not) can be used to feed this narrative. To name just a few, Romney has said that “corporations are people”; confided that he likes to “be able to fire people” who provide him services; and has refused to say whether any and all questions about inequality and Wall Street excess are rooted in anything other than “envy.”

Now, none of this means that Romney isn’t the strongest general election candidate, and indeed, polls show he’s locked in a dead heat with Obama nationally and in key swing states.

Right.  Romney is easily the strongest of the Republican candidates, but I do think it is intriguing that his obvious issues regarding his personal wealth so nicely play into the narrative and debate that Democrats want to have in this election.  Not that these issues wouldn’t come up if someone like Perry or Santorum were the nominee, but the truth is, Romney being the nominee gives the media much more incentive to focus on these issues and thereby gives them much more legs.

What I also think is telling is that writings similar to the above are not restricted to the left-wing blogosphere, but also appearing in places like John Dickerson’s latest Slate column.  Dickerson, though writing in Slate, is definitely no lefty blogger and a good bellwether of what campaign journalists are paying attention to:

Romney has an uncanny ability to create moments that highlight his wealth. He said part of his income came from “speakers’ fees from time to time, but not very much.” “Not very much” to Romney turned out to be nearly $400,000. Romney also made a $10,000 bet with Rick Perry. He joked that he was unemployed. When he talks about his grandchildren he doesn’t tell warm stories about throwing spaghetti, he describes how they caused him to change the distribution of his estate. Romney tries to narrow the vast gap between his life and the daily struggle of regular people. It often doesn’t work out well. His talk of worrying about pink slips offered an opportunity for Rick Perry to joke that it was Romney’s fear of running out of them that really worried him.

The political question is whether voters think Romney’s wealth makes him more able or less able to turn around the economy in a way that helps them. Political scientist John Sides has run the numbers and suggests a strong correlation between those who think Romney is wealthy and those who think he doesn’t care about their lives. We’ve had rich presidents before—FDR and John F. Kennedy—but their wealth was not seen as an impediment because voters believed those guys were looking out for them.  [emphasis mine]

Romney may win, he may not, but either way, I do believe that his personal wealth and difficulty in connecting with the economic concerns of ordinary voters will be a definite impediment to him.  Perhaps most prominently in allowing the Democrats to focus the campaign narrative in ways that are definitely more conducive to an Obama re-election.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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