Well, at least the political press won’t be talking about Todd Akin during the weekend leading into the Republican National Convention. Mitt Romney on Friday, showing off his less-than-world-class sense of humor: “No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate.”
Just approaching this from the point of view of campaign strategy: Yikes! This can’t possibly be any good for him. I mean, where to start? First of all, it’s certain to put the Romney campaign on the defensive over the weekend.
The national press is pretty clear that birther nonsense is out of bounds; make up stuff about welfare and you’ll get burned by MSNBC hosts, the liberal blogosphere and the fact-checkers, which have a combined audience of approximately zero undecided voters — but make birther jokes, and you’re going to get the (negative) attention of the national press.
But that’s not all! Romney has been arguing that he’s the one running a policy-oriented campaign while Barack Obama has been making personal attacks; birther jokes completely undermine that. The Republican National Convention, we’re told, is going to be all about introducing a very likable Mitt Romney. Spending the weekend before it talking about his birther joke is hardly going to be helpful to that.
Now, I do need to point out that none of this is apt to shake a lot of votes one way or another. It’s a late-August blip, and at the very worst it will be a big deal through the first day or two of the convention, and then fade away. (Although you can be sure that Democrats will be quick to raise it the next time they are accused of cheap shots or personal attacks.)
It does, however, remind us of the real dangers of the conservative closed information feedback loop. If you spend all your time in a world in which birther and teleprompter jokes are really funny, Solyndra was a major national scandal, and Barack Obama and the Democrats are encouraging gun crimes so that they’ll trick the nation into strict gun control, it can be hard to know what’s appropriate to say in mixed company and how it’s going to be taken.
After all, at every event a Republican politician is at, it’s stuff like that that’s getting the big reactions. It’s not surprising that they lose a sense of how it plays with the rest of the world.
Remember, while there’s nothing inherent in conservative ideas that causes that feedback loop, it doesn’t currently exist equally for both parties; Republicans have built their epistemic closure by systematically demonizing and discrediting the neutral press and encouraging their supporters — and themselves — to listen to only the Republican-aligned partisan press.
Which means that Mitt Romney’s joke and Todd Akin’s garbled biology have more in common than one might think, and there’s every possibility that we’re going to see more of these sorts of gaffes before the election is over.
Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who contributes to the Washington Post blogs Plum Line and PostPartisan.