Romney’s $10K Bet: Costly Debate Gaffe?
By MAUREEN MACKEY,
Posted: December 11, 2011
Ten thousand dollars can put a lot of food on the table, fill up lots of gas tanks, and help pay everyday bills.
The $10K Mitt Romney offered to wage in a bet against Rick Perry in Saturday night’s GOP debate in Iowa is not going to buy the former governor of Massachusetts any favors with middle class voters.
The latest debate gaffe has drawn new attention to Romney’s considerable personal wealth and financial success: His net worth is estimated at $200 million. For a number of Iowans, $10,000 amounts to “three or four months’ salary,” Michelle Bachmann’s communications director, Alice Stewart, was quick to point out on Saturday night after the debate. And a representative for the current GOP frontrunner, Newt Gingrich, said, “I want to know if he [Romney] has $10,000 in his pocket.”
The term “10K” is now taking on a life of its own, which may further hurt Romney. The phrase “$10Kbet” has been trending on Twitter, and Jon Huntsman’s campaign is running a website called www.10Kbet.com, with a main headline on Sunday afternoon that read, “Why Mitt Romney Owes Rick Perry $10,000.”
The $10K wager came up Saturday night when Rick Perry insisted that Romney had been in favor of individual health care mandates and that he’d changed the latest edition of one of his books to wiggle out of that position. “I’m just saying, you’re for individual mandates, my friend,” Perry said to Romney after raising the point and hearing Romney deny it.
Romney, standing next to Perry, responded, “You’ve raised that before, Rick, and you’re simply wrong.” Then he suddenly stuck out his hand. “Rick, I’ll tell you what: 10,000 bucks?”
Either because he feared he was in error or because he wanted to take the high moral ground by refusing, Perry did not accept the wager. “I’m not in the betting business,” Perry said. Romney laughed that off, shook his head, and said, “Okay, okay.”
The Romney camp has already been spinning the remark. “Romney made that bet because he knew Rick Perry wouldn’t take it,” said Romney strategist Eric Fehrnstrom. Stuart Stevens, another adviser to Romney, called the line “a very human thing to do to get someone to shut up when they’re not telling the truth.”
In his personal life, Romney is described as a frugal man. When he worked at Bain Capital, he ate brown-bag lunches in front of the computer to set an example to colleagues of keeping business costs low. “He is as cheap as it comes,” a longtime Romney friend, confidant and business partner told The New York Times. But he has also owned a series of multimillion-dollar properties, including a New Hampshire retreat currently valued at $4 million. The Times calls this the “tug of war” evident in Romney’s life “between an instinctive, at times comical frugality, and an embrace of the lavish lifestyle that accompanied his swelling Wall Street fortune.”
Either way, it’s unfortunate that the candidate, on live television in front of millions, many of whom don’t have jobs, cars or health insurance, tossed a $10,000 bet around as casually as if he were tossing a football on a Sunday afternoon.
Will rank-and-file voters remember the $10K bet as the campaign for president intensifies? One middle-aged New York voter on Sunday said the whole issue is “trivial, not a big deal,” and that the “press is blowing the whole thing out of proportion.” In response to a Politico article on Sunday, another voter commented, “Any rational person knows the bet was rhetorical and not serious.”
All of this may be true. And any candidate who thinks a high-stakes bet is trivial risks alienating the very voters he or she will need to win the next presidential election.