Insiders Split Over Effect of Obama's 'Doing Fine' Gaffe
President Obama prompted winces among supporters and glee from detractors when he said during a press conference -- to discuss a mediocre jobs report of all things -- that "The private sector is doing fine."
National Journal's political Insiders were split, however, on how much lasting harm the ill-chosen turn of phrase would do to the president as he seeks a second term in a still-sour economy. Almost two thirds of GOP Insiders said the remarks were "very damaging. The majority of Democratic Insiders, meanwhile, downplayed the gaffe, saying the comment was "somewhat damaging" although not fatal, with another third brushing it off entirely as doing no damage at all.
How detrimental to his reelection prospects is President Obama's comment that the "private sector is doing fine"?
"Somewhere between dumb and catastrophic," one Republican Insider assessed.
Others were much less generous.
"That could well be the comment that cemented the beginning of the end for the President's re-election bid," one GOP insider predicted. Another added, "As one who has assumed the president was going to waltz to victory, this statement has done more to make me believe that he is a paper tiger than any other he has uttered."
A Democratic colleague chimed in, "Obama rarely misplaces a syllable but, wow, did he misplace this one."
Many pointed out that the incident would make premium fodder for attack ads. Mitt Romney's campaign released its first using the comments Thursday morning. "It is really early in the campaign, but if used consistently and strategically by Romney and super PACs, it could become a difference maker," one Democrat said.
The most damaging aspect of the remarks, Insiders said, was that it cemented perceptions of the president as out-of-touch and over his head when it comes to the issue foremost on voters' minds.
"Obama pulled the curtain back on his economic philosophy, which is that we just need more government workers and spending. That's not selling with voters anymore," a Republican Insider said. "Adds to the story line that he's the Alicia Silverstone of American politics: Clueless, " another added.
"It's not as bad as not knowing what a bar-code scanner is, but it was semi-Freudian as to his day-to-day focus on the economy," a Democratic Insider agreed, referencing George H.W. Bush's apparent unfamiliarity with a grocery scanner in 1992 -- a tidbit his critics used to lampoon him.
Many Democratic Insiders, however, said that in the gaffe-off, Romney had committed his fair share of mistakes as well.
"In the battle of who is out of touch, Mitt (I-like-to-fire-people/My-wife-drives-a-couple-of-Cadillacs/Corporations-are-people/I'm-also-unemployed) Romney wins hands down," one said.
"It's a minor distraction only because the media legitimizes a misspoken phrase as real news. The gaffe patrols need to stop on both sides," another added.
Several pointed out that the incident is fleeting so many months from Election Day and in the grander scheme of things, inconsequential.
"People have the attention span of a gnat. This will be over by ... well, it's already over," a Republican Insider said. "In the silly season that we are in, this will pass, just like Romney's dog on the roof of his car," a Democrat agreed.