So Mitt Romney might have or might not have made a gaffe yesterday.
At an event in New Hampshire he said:
“I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means that if you don’t like what they do, you could fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know, if someone isn’t giving the good service, I want to say, I’m going to go get someone else to provide this service to.”
His opponents have isolated the “I like being able to fire people” part, to argue that Romney is a cold PE guy that makes his money at the misfortune of others.
Others, like Buzzfeed’s Zeke Miller say it wasn’t a gaffe at all when you look at the whole context, which is totally benign. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to switch an insurance company that’s providing you bad services.
Our own Michael Brendan Dougherty was at the speech, and also said it didn’t seem like a gaffe at all while listening to the context.
But while Romney’s point — that he likes to be able to switch insurers — is a fine one, it is still a gaffe. Why? Because saying “I like being able to fire people” is something that nobody would ever use in this context, unless they’re someone for whom firing people (restructuring, right-sizing, etc.) is their modus operandi, which applies to a PE guy.
It’s not a huge deal, and we don’t even think there’s anything wrong with the way PE firms operate, including layoffs when they’re necessary to get a company so that it’s solvent. But if you’re vulnerable on the job-destroyer issue, and you think normal run-of-the-mill consumer choice situations are solved by “firing people” then yeah, you’ve just made a gaffe.