Back in the 1970’s British Prime Minister Harold Wilson coined the phrase “A Week is a Long Time in Politics.” That’s conventional wisdom amongst campaign professionals and pundits. The idea being, the public has a short attention span and what can rile people up one week will be forgotten by the next. In fact, that was what Romney Senior Campaign advisor Eric Fehrnstrom was saying last week in his now infamous “Etch-A-Sketch” comment on CNN.
Too bad a viral rap video from an Australian grad student proves the conventional wisdom wrong and shows how serious Romney’s public image problem really is.
After a substantial primary victory in Illinois last week a CNN reporter asked Eric Fehrnstrom if Romney has tacked so far right in the Republican primary that he’ll have trouble courting independents in the general election. Fehrnstrom said:
“You hit a re-set button for the Fall campaign, everything changes. It’s kindof like an Etch-A-Sketch you shake it up and re-start all over again.”
Immediately Democrats and journalists seized upon this statement, poking fun at Romney, pointing out that a tabula rasa that changes whenever shaken is a perfect allegory for Romney. But they needn’t have bothered, Fehrnstrom was wrong and the proof came just two days earlier from the newest viral video “Will the Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up” by Hugh Atkin.
Atkin is an Australian Law student at Oxford who spent about a week putting together the 3 minute video composed of clips of Mitt Romney from speeches and interviews throughout the campaign rapping to the tune of Eminem’s “Real Slim Shady.” To call it a mash-up is a great disservice to how good this video is. When you can slice Romney’s ACTUAL words together to flow like this:
Y’all act like you haven’t seen a Mormon before
Drawers down on the floor
I’m not concerned about the very poor
I got it wrong — sorry, that’s not what I meant
I want every American to be in the top one percent
I’m really named Willard, that’s my first name
I’m not looking for a colony on the moon, just for someone to blame
…..You should be getting calls from Ferrell.
So what does a rapping Australian, an Etch-A-Sketch and an old Harold Wilson quote have to do with debunking conventional wisdom? We just have to take a look at the ivory tower. Back in 1995 a few political scientists, Steenbergen, Lodge and Brau, decided to test this whole idea that voters are forgetful goldfish that don’t know or remember anything about politics. They created some experimental campaign scenarios and tested how much campaign information voters could recall by memory versus the impressions they formed of the candidates. They came to a very interesting conclusion:
Over time people forget most of the campaign information they are exposed to but are nonetheless able to later recollect their summary affective evaluation of candidates which they then use to inform their preferences and vote choice.
What does the above mean in normal-speak? If you ask a political junkie, or journalist or campaign expert why they feel they way they do about Mitt Romney they will recall specific events or statements to explain that feeling. For example:
Q: How Do you Feel about Mitt Romney?
Smart Person: I think he’s out of touch and a flip-flopper. He makes $10,000 bets and changed his mind in abortion.
However, most people aren’t paying that much attention to campaigns, they don’t eat sleep and breathe Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity. The majority of the public just absorbs information in the campaign, forms an impression then forgets about where they got the information. So if you ask them the same question:
Q: How do you feel about Mitt Romney?
Regular Person: I think he’s out of touch and a flip-flopper. He…didn’t he like, fire a bunch of people or change his mind on Iraq or something?
The impression is the same, but only political sophisticates remember how they came to it. The truth is that’s how we come to most impressions in life. I’m not a fan of Dustin Hoffman, can’t tell you exactly why, or which of his movies turned me off, but the guy just bugs me. So, here is the really scary part for Senior advisor Fernstrom and former Governor wannabe-president Romney. Once people form an impression of a candidate it’s essentially impossible to change. Once you’re a war hero, dummy, flip-flopper or rock star that image is pretty much frozen in carbonite for the voters through the election. You know what’s even more scary for Romney and Fernstrom? The fact that an Australian living in England can make a video poking fun at Mitt Romney for being out of touch, aloof, rich and a flip-flopper and everyone gets the joke and the video goes viral in 24 hours shows. In an interview with Forbes magazine video creator Huge Atkin lays out a devastating explanation for why he made a video with Romney covering Eminem:
I liked the incongruity of someone as straight-laced (and as out of touch with popular culture and sensibilities) as Governor Romney rapping. I was also intrigued by the idea that Romney’s words could be re-sampled and re-ordered in order to fit any tune – that he was so malleable that he could literally be made to say anything. In editing the video, I wanted it to seem that the song was almost getting away from Romney, that, while trying all-too-earnestly to fit into a contemporary form, he could not help himself but make gaffe after gaffe. The fact that Romney and Eminem are both sons of Detroit with very different backgrounds and views on the auto industry was an added bonus.
Ouch. No wonder he’s at Oxford. If outside observers from across the globe have formed this impression of Romney over the last year, and his own base considers him a flip-flopping, out of touch elitist, it’s pretty unlikely that he’s going to be able to smooth talk independents and conservative Democrats into jumping on his bandwagon.
A week may be a long time in politics, but after 52 weeks people get a pretty good handle on who you are. No matter what the conventional wisdom says, there are no do-overs or etch-a-sketch’s coming to save the day for Mitt Romney. Yes, in a couple of months most voters may not remember the specifics of “My Dog is on the roof” or “Betcha $10,000” or even “I’m running for office for Pete’s sake” – but the impression is already there and it’s etched in amber.
Maybe if his campaign puts down the Etch-A-Sketch and hires Atkins to make another video he can at least try to roll with the narrative rather than being rolled by it. I’m sure there’s some way that Romney can fit a tax cutting, anti-Obamacare strategy into a remake of Lose Yourself. He’ll just have to avoid the auto-industry connection.
This originally appeared online at Politic365.com.