Mitt Romney's best shot at capturing the White House is convincing Americans he's the guy to turn the economy around, channeling lingering unemployment, a steep drop in household wealth, and a general feeling of malaise into a rejection of Barack Obama's presidency in November.
But even if the president made a mistake on Friday when he said the private sector was "doing fine" -- an inartful attempt to describe the fact that the enduring job losses under his administration have mostly been in the public sector -- Romney's inability that same day to identify what most Americans would instantly recognize as a "donut" will, I think, prove much more significant in the long run:
In case you missed it, Romney had a similarly awkward exchange with some bakers in Pennsylvania in April when, visibly disgusted, he said their (legendary) cookies were from "the local 7-Eleven bakery or whatever."
This is not to argue that throngs of voters will have these goofy moments fresh in their minds when they cast ballots months from now. But every time Romney betrays his elite upbringing and effete mannerisms -- the guy spent the Vietnam War in a French palace, for God's sake! -- he sets himself apart from the working-class white voters he needs to sweep to have a shot in states like Ohio and Florida.
Republicans seem to think Obama's "doing fine" flub and bad economic news can help them make a comeback on the "who's more in touch" front, but any time the discussion is about being in touch, Romney loses. It's not even close. Just check out this clip of Obama riffing about his favorite kinds of pie to an adoring crowd a few days before his 2008 victory:
What do these moments tell us? Well, that Romney should steer clear of baked goods at campaign events, for one. But more seriously, his economic case has to ride less on his being in touch with everyday Americans -- no one will buy that -- and more on his having the managerial background and technocratic expertise to right the ship.