9:11 pm ET
First, the mitigation: Some of what Romney said at the closed fundraiser, he could well have said in public; tens of millions of Americans agree with what Romney said; the press generally is not favorably disposed toward anything Romney does; the media were already in the midst of a feeding frenzy on the “Romney in free fall” narrative; Romney, like Obama in his “guns and religion” 2008 remarks, was to a large extent pandering to donors.
All that mitigation is the proportional and practical equivalent of the foam head on a giant mug of beer.
There are just too many lines in what Romney said that are not politically defensible, especially, “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” The reaction in a printed statement from the Romney campaign and from the right on cable, in tweets and on the Web so far is defiance. (“Not damaging bc it’s the truth … 47% do not pay income tax! Start reporting on real issues!” “So you’re all proud of driving 10s of millions into Gov’t dependency? BTW, you’ve alienated the 53%”)
This story has secret video (not all of which has been aired yet!); ridiculous, explosive sound bites; controversy; an outraged opposition; and a lot of spinoff angles: reporting galore on income and tax figures; reporting galore on who shot the video; endless speculation and reporting about what Romney really meant, what comparable things he’s said in the past, including at other closed fundraisers, etc.
It’s politically devastating because it plays into people’s preconceived notions of Romney as Monty Burns + Thurston Howell. And the bigger potential problem is that the right (Limbaugh, Ingraham, Erickson) will love what Romney said, and if he walks it back, they will savage him as being weak-kneed and caving to liberals and the media.
As I see it, Romney’s only chance to try to stem the damage is to do an abject apology, but that really isn’t his style. He’s up to his eyeballs in the freak show now. There is a difference between what is and what ought to be — and Romney has a heap of trouble tonight.