In case you have somehow managed to remain unaware, a grand piano has just come crashing down on Mitt Romney's head. It has messed up his hair, and then some.
The left-wing journal Mother Jones has turned up a secretly-made video of Romney talking to a room full of rich donors, at an unspecified date some time after the primaries ended. You can watch the various clips they've posted here. It shows Mitt talking openly and freely about the election, perhaps in response to questions from the floor. He sounds animated, at ease with the people he knows support him, but also rather keen to impress. And that has led him into trouble.
The stand-out gaffe is this:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.
As the excellent conservative commentator David Brooks points out, it's one thing to consider the steep rise in the proportion of America's population claiming benefits over the last thirty years to be a problem. It's another to write off everyone receiving benefits as hapless, hopeless, self-pitying layabouts:
The people who receive the disproportionate share of government spending are not big-government lovers. They are Republicans. They are senior citizens. They are white men with high school degrees. As Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution has noted, the people who have benefited from the entitlements explosion are middle-class workers, more so than the dependent poor.
It should also be pointed out that when you include payroll and sales taxes and so on, most of these people pay far higher rates of tax than Romney.
I need hardly spend any more time on Romney's crassness. Let's ask instead what impact it will have on his chances of becoming president.
The first thing to say is that it probably won't have a huge impact. Individual gaffes rarely do. They usually feel bigger and more important in the moment than they actually turn out to be. Obama's patronising remarks about Pennsylvanians - also caught on tape during a donors' dinner - seemed to pose a real danger of killing his campaign. But he survived the Pennsylvania primary and managed to put it behind him.
But Obama's gaffe was made in April, not half-way through September. Romney has much less time to recover. Even if he does shake off this story, he will have spent the next several days fire-fighting stories about it. This is a crucial point. The closer you get to an election, the harder those numbers are to shift. If you're two or three points behind, as Romney is, every day that you're not closing the gap is a day that hurts you more than your opponent - even if the gap remains the same. Every day the stories dominating the news aren't hurting your opponent is a bad one.
These are bad days for Romney, then. Very bad, actually, because around now a lot of independent voters, not terribly interested in politics, are starting to turn their weary eyes to the election. Romney's remarks will play right into a narrative about the Republican candidate that the Obama campaign will hope has been cooking away at the backs of their minds for the last few months: that he is, essentially, Mr Burns from The Simpsons, a rich man who hates everyone except other rich men.
But perhaps even worse than that is what these videos do to Mitt's stature. I don't mean that viewing a tiny image of his head through a wine glass makes him look physically minute. I mean that he comes across, on this tape, as a small undignified character, panting with eagerness to impress, something more like a two-bit political pundit being shoved a few grand to speak after dinner than a president-in-waiting.
If Romney loses in November, Republicans will bemoan his tendency to make gaffes. But that would be to massively miss the point. The point is, they need better candidates. A man who writes off nearly half of the nation as deadbeats is not fit to be running for president of the United States. And he was the best of the bunch.