The 47% Tape Isn't a Gaffe

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Nate Silver revisits his skepticism on the impact of the Romney tape:

By Sept. 17, the date when the video of Mr. Romney's remarks was released and received widespread attention, the momentum from Mr. Obama's convention appeared to have stalled (although not necessarily reversed itself). Mr. Obama led in the popular vote by 4.1 percentage points on that date, according to the "now-cast." 

Since then, however, Mr. Obama has gained further ground in the polls. As of Thursday, he led in the popular vote by 5.7 percentage points in the "now-cast," a gain of 1.6 percentage points since Mr. Romney's remarks became known to the public. 

 It's hard to tell whether this recent gain for Mr. Obama reflects the effect of the "47 percent" comments specifically. But the most typical pattern after a party convention is that a candidate who gains ground in the polls cedes at least some of it back. 

Instead, the more pertinent question seems not whether Mr. Obama is losing ground, but whether he is still gaining it.
I think (and thought at the time) that it is wrong to look at the 47 percent tape as a "gaffe." This isn't like describing yourself as "severely conservative" or rolling up on a bunch of black kids as yelling "who let the dogs out?" Romney's speech wasn't an example of social awkwardness, or misspeaking  On the contrary he seemed very comfortable. He spoke  very clearly, directly and with great conviction. Forgetting your spouse's anniversary is a gaffe. Someone mailing a tape of you engaged in an affair is something more.

The 47 percent tape isn't like "You didn't build that." This isn't your idiot kicker getting liquored up. It is not a careless phrase, rendered after spending too much time in front of a microphone. It is a thesis, delivered at some length, with confidence and vigor. It is unfortunate for Romney that it is now public, and that it fits right into the narrative Obama started drawing months ago. But I don't think this was a "slip-up." 

I understand Nate's initial skepticism, and I think it's healthy impulse. But I think he put this tape in the wrong drawer. This was something more than an ill-timed press release. 
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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