Mitt Romney seems like a smart and careful guy, so why does he keep saying ridiculous things -- like Sunday's comment, "I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners" -- that only worsen the perception that he's a wealthy buffoon who doesn't understand the rest of us? We have four theories.
Theory 1: He's just that clueless. The most straightforward theory is that Romney is just a rich guy who's always been rich and has no idea how normal people talk and think.
Example: "When it comes to his wealth, Romney is a clumsy rich guy who hasn't learned how to talk about these issues in public," MSNBC's Steve Benen says.
Theory 2: He's authentic! This one's pretty straightforward, too: Romney just isn't ashamed of his wealth. He's not trying to hide it, it's just that all y'all class warriors expect him to try.
Example: "I think everyone pretty much knows that Romney has made a lot of money," the National Review's Jay Nordlinger writes. "A few weeks ago, a Santorum campaigner-blogger on this site said that Romney was 'pretending he’s not rich.' Well, for a guy who’s pretending he’s not rich, he’s pretty loose with the Cadillac talk."
Theory 3: He's really bad at pandering. This theory is espoused by New York's Jonathan Chait. When Romney said his wife owned a couple Cadillacs, he was trying to pander to the auto industry to make amends for that "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" op-ed. "I own Detroit cars" is a tried-and-true pander. But there's another pander that outranks it: the "I'm just as mad about the economy as you" pander. This misunderstanding of the hierarchy of pandering also played out in Romney's remark about how even though he lost to Ted Kennedy in the 1994 Senate race, he was happy to have at least forced the Democrat to take out a second mortgage. Perhaps Romney was thinking, "I am before a conservative audience. Conservatives hate Ted Kennedy. They would love to know how I hurt Ted Kennedy." But he forgot that many in the audience might be in trouble right now with their own second mortgages.
Example: Chait writes, "If somebody were to accuse you of hating the Girl Scouts, you might point out that we bought a half dozen boxes of Tagalongs. That’s Romney’s thought process. I don’t hate Detroit, I love Detroit! I have a whole fleet of cars! My wife rides in a Cadillac, with a driver following behind in a second Cadillac in case she feels like changing colors in the middle of the trip! What? What did I say?"
Theory 4: It's a Freudian slip. He's trying so hard to repress his rich-guy jokes that they can't help but bubble to the surface. You can imagine him thinking, "Don't sound rich, don't mention money" so much that these slips can't help but come out. It makes you wonder if Ann Romney can shed some light on whether Romney displays this tendency off the campaign trail. Has she ever asked him if these pants make her look fat? Has he ever responded "No, they're much more flattering than those black ones you wear all the time," or "No, they really hide those fat deposits on your thighs," or "No, I can't even tell you've gained weight"?
Here's a timeline of Romney's rich-dude gaffes -- plenty of evidence to come up with your own theory:
Best fits: Theory 1. He's clueless that for most people casually making a $10,000 bet is incredibly reckless. This wasn't a pander, or even much of a statement of authenticity, just tone-deafness.
Best fits: As noted above, Theory 3, not understanding how to pander.
January 17: Romney explains that he pays only about a 15 percent tax rate because of the source of his income: "For the past 10 years, my income comes overwhelmingly from investments made in the past, rather than ordinary income or earned annual income. I got a little bit of income from my book, but I gave that all away. Then, I get speakers fees from time to time, but not very much." The "not much" from speaking fees? $374,000.
Best fits: Theory 1. Like casually making a $10,000 bet, he's displaying he genuinely has a different relationship to money than most of the people who he's talking to.
February 26: At the Daytona 500, Romney was asked whether he's a Nascar fan. "Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans," he replied. "But I have some great friends that are NASCAR team owners." The audio clip:
Best fits: Theory 3. Being friends with NASCAR owners is not the same as being a fan of NASCAR.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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