Mitt Romney: “I Like Being Able To Fire People”

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 9, 2012 – 2:59 PM

Mitt Romney has run a remarkably gaffe-free campaign.

Until today.

In what might be the most damaging single sentence to emerge from a frontrunner’s lips since John McCain’s 2008 claim that the “fundamentals of our economy are strong” (which he uttered as Lehman Brothers was collapsing and the stock market was plummeting), Mitt Romney said this morning that he “likes being able to fire people.”

“Wait a minute,” you might think, “that’s taken totally out of context!”

That may be true, but it doesn’t matter. Gaffes that reinforce an existing narrative about a candidate are almost always the most harmful ones, and Gov. Romney is already enduring increasing attacks from opponents and Democrats alike for being more of a job “cremator” than job creator during his tenure at Bain Capital.

As pundit Michael Kinsley once said, a “gaffe” is when a politician tells the truth. Mr. Romney’s comment will hurt him because many voters will view it as revelatory, not accidental. 

You may remember that back in 2008, days before the New Hampshire primary, Sen. Barack Obama sarcastically quipped during a debate that Sen. Hillary Clinton was “likeable enough,” paving the way for her unexpected win in the Granite State.

It’s less likely that Mitt Romney will lose tomorrow night’s primary – but his gaffe could narrow the margin and complicate his “inevitable” march to the nomination.

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Comments (8)

  1. By Why Romney’s Gaffe is So Damaging | Hotspyer – Breaking News from around the web:

    […] — “I like being able to fire people” — was taken out of context. But Brad Phillips argues it doesn’t […]

  2. By Joshua:

    I think this will hurt him much less in the primaries than in the general election against Obama.

    While the other GOP candidates are hitting him hard over this, they ultimately don’t have the money or the time to make up the ground against him. The NH primary is tomorrow and SC is a week from tomorrow, and if Romney wins both as expected, the GOP primary race is essentially over, and the other candidates will, however reluctantly, coalesce around Romney.

    But if the Obama campaign can make this gaffe last until next November, it could really hurt Romney. But that’s they key – it will have to make this gaffe last for 10 months. That’s not easy to do.

  3. By Brad Phillips:

    Hi Joshua,

    Thank you for your comment.

    You may be right that this gaffe won’t stop Gov. Romney’s march to the nomination and that it will hurt him more in the general election than the primaries. But I don’t doubt the Democrats’ ability to keep this meme going for ten months. If it was a random gaffe, sure – but since this one reinforces an existing narrative, I suspect it’ll stick.

    Just how big a mistake is this? Within hours, Gov. Rick Perry had introduced the “Mitt Romney ”I like to be able to fire people’ ring tone.” Perhaps Mr. Perry is just glad that his own “oops” moment has been superceded by Mr. Romney.

    Thanks for reading,

    Thanks again

  4. By Romney steps in it with “I like being able to fire people” gaffe « On Message:

    […] Democratic National Committee, called Romney a “job cremator” this past weekend. And as Mr. Media Training‘s Brad Phillips noted today, a gaffe that reinforces a broader idea that people already consider to be true is also […]

  5. By Ace Frahm:

    You have improperly suggested that it might be possible that this quote was taken out of context, when it clearly was not. Mitt clearly expressed delight at his ability to ruin people he wants to throw away.

    As a journalist, you are responsible for closing off the untrue possibility space to your audience.

  6. By Brad Phillips:

    Dear Ace,

    I’m well aware of the problems with the “View From Nowhere.” For example, I remember a debate at C-SPAN years ago, caused when the network wanted to have a Holocaust denier on air to “balance” a Holocaust survivor.

    But your assertion that Mitt Romney’s statement was, indeed, in context, is demonstrably wrong. He was talking about health providers, as the full clip clearly shows. Is it a revelatory comment about his private thinking on other matters? Perhaps. But your conclusion that he expressed “delight” at being able to “ruin people” is baseless.

    Best wishes,

  7. By Ace Frahm:

    That only makes sense if you think health providers aren’t people.

  8. By Brad Phillips:


    Health care professionals (e.g. nurses, doctors) are people. Health care companies (e.g. Blue Cross, Blue Shield and Humana) are not. I suspect you knew that already. And I’m confused why it took you five months to develop that response.


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