By Reid Cherlin, GQ
This story originally appeared on GQ.com: How Mitt Wins
It seems like everyone's first reaction to the Mother Jones videos was to say, okay, Romney's finished. (Guilty here, too.) This kind of boorishness is not survivable for a candidate in his position, the thinking goes. But let's take the contrarian view -- already being espoused by some smart people on Twitter -- that these comments aren't a big deal. That they actually set the stage for a big Romney comeback. Here's a timeline view of how it could happen. Really. We swear.
1. Romney decides to embrace this. Yes, he's been a terrible and terribly plastic candidate so far, but now he decides to be "real Romney" in public, ignore the conventions of centrist appeal, and just go lustily after his own base voters.
2. We in the press think this is hilarious, but also kind of more compelling than his usual shtick. He keeps our interest.
3. Obama builds this material into all of his stump speeches, and the "47 percent" thing becomes a laugh line for Democrats -- but a rallying point for conservatives and Obama-haters. Finally! A candidate -- the formerly timid Romney, no less -- with the guts to call out America's handout culture in forceful terms.
4. Romney goes into the debates with expectations utterly in the basement. He exceeds them. How? By preparing hard and landing some good one-liners. (He has shown he is capable of doing this occasionally.)
5. As the nation looks on, Obama gets irritated, as he often does, by the very fact of having to spend time on the stage with Romney. This is exacerbated by the fact that Romney seems actually to be doing pretty well. Obama says something stupid. (He has shown he is capable of doing this occasionally.)
6. A storyline begins to build. An anonymous Obama advisor complains that "the press is trying to make this a close race" and the campaign holds numerous conference calls to point out their state-level advantages. It makes them look worried. Suddenly the press wonders, wait a second, are we sleeping through something major here?
7. Romney, slowly but surely, begins to ride a wave of confidence, learning to love his new natural self. And after all, it isn't so different in what it believes from the old Romney. He makes a virtue out of the negatives everyone has always seen in him. He has found his authenticity at last, and with it, a perfectly timed sense of ease and ebullience.
8. Conservatives and evangelicals embrace Romney's argument passionately. They see him as a last chance to make a stand for freedom and individualism. With momentum on their side, a pitch that might otherwise seem sort of sad and desperate begins to feel exciting and inspiring. We can do this thing, fellow congregants! We can save America! Bring five apathetic conservatives to the polls with you!
9. Democrats begin to grumble that Obama is squandering his lead and inexplicably letting Romney get away with malpractice (credit to HuffPost's Sam Stein for predicting this already), touching off a rebirth of Democratic discontent. Bill Clinton makes a comment that he thinks Obama isn't being forceful enough.
10. The Friday before Election Day is jobs numbers day. (That's not a hypothetical.) The report is awful. (That is a hypothetical, but not so unlikely.) It's enough to convince the handful of undecided or soft-committed leaners to take a flyer on a new chief executive.
11... Romney wins, barely.
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