Why Was the $10,000 Bet Moment so Bad?

December 12th, 2011 at 11:16 am David Frum | 45 Comments |

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Ed Morrissey observes at HotAir.com:

If Romney wanted to make himself look rich, arrogant, and clueless, he could hardly have done a better job. When was the last time someone challenged you to a ridiculous bet in order to intimidate you out of an argument? For me, I think it was junior-high school.

That’s well said, but I’d slightly revise the point. The thing that was most ugly about that moment was that it was not altogether clueless.

Romney was engaging in an attempt at bullying based on Romney’s acute awareness of his own great wealth and Perry’s comparatively modest wealth. The bet was not an instance of unawareness. It was an instance of hyper-awareness. It showed something we had not previously seen (anyway, not so clearly) about the way Romney thinks of and uses his money.

WIll it make a difference to the campaign? I have no idea. I doubt it. But for what it’s worth, the incident made an impression on me, reminding me of something I’d noticed before but never before quite put in words: Romney values money and those who possess money much more than democratic political leaders usually do. Here’s an extract for example from a speech Romney gave in 2010 at CPAC. I quote at length to give fair context:

Sometimes I wonder whether Washington’s liberal politicians understand the greatness of America. Let me explain why I say that. At Christmas-time, I was in Wal-Mart to buy some toys for my grandkids. As I waited in the check-out line, I took a good look around the store. I thought to myself of the impact Sam Walton had on his company. Sam Walton was all about good value on everything the customer might want. And so is Wal-Mart: rock bottom prices and tens of thousands of items. The impact that founders like Sam Walton have on their enterprises is actually quite remarkable. In many ways, Microsoft is a reflection of Bill Gates, just as Apple is of Steve Jobs. Disneyland is a permanent tribute to Walt Disney himself—imaginative and whimsical. Virgin Airlines is as irreverent and edgy as its founder. As you look around you, you see that people shape enterprises, sometimes for many years even after they are gone. People shape businesses. People shape countries. America reflects the values of the people who first landed here, those who founded the nation, those who won our freedom, and those who made America the leader of the world.

Romney could have made an equal point about, say, the United States Marine Corps or the University of Chicago or the Salvation Army or the Securities and Exchange Commission. But he didn’t.

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45 Comments so far ↓

  • Frumplestiltskin

    Romney: You only matter if you are somebody, like me.

    C’mon Frum, get on the Huntsman train even if it goes nowhere out of simple self-respect.

    • LaLupa

      Yes, Frum should have joined us on the Huntsman train a long time ago instead of wasting time with such an obvious phony like Romney.

  • Xunzi Washington

    “…get on the Huntsman train even if it goes nowhere out of simple self-respect”.


    Or just become an Independent already. Good lord. How much cognitive dissonance can exist in one head?

  • dante

    DF – The reason the $10k bet was so horrible is that the vast majority of people see $10k as:

    1) Something that would pay their mortgage for a year so that they can avoid losing their home to foreclosure.
    2) One year’s worth of unemployment.
    3) Enough to buy a trouble-free car so you can get back and forth to work every day for the next ~5 years.
    4) Enough to pay off the average American’s credit card bill so they can get out from under crippling debt.
    5) One year’s tuition at a State University.
    6) 2 years worth of groceries for the average American family.
    7) One year’s worth of health insurance for the average American family (paid out of pocket).
    8) A new roof to replace their old leaky one.
    9) Enough to educate your child if placed in a 529 plan the day the child is born.
    10) Pay down the underwater portion of a the mortgage so that the family can refinance into the lower rate mortgages.

    THAT is what middle-class Americans think of $10k. It’s not something that average Americans offer up in a flippant bet just to show how right or rich they are. Again, part of the problem isn’t in the actual bet, it’s the reinforcing of the idea that Romney is rich and out of touch with the American people. If it had been Ron Paul or Santorum, nobody would care. However, when you have a picture of yourself with money flowing out of your suit, it’s a problem.

    • PracticalGirl

      +202 million, Romney’s net worth

    • Beanster

      Very well said. What was Romney thinking? Can he be any more obtuse? I had just earlier in the evening commented to my wife that, while everyone was expecting Newt to misfire and put his foot in his mouth…I predicted that it would be Romney that would crack first. Maybe I should have bet her $10k?

  • Falling Rock

    It’s much ado about nothing considering the field.

    In the grander scheme it just shows a tin ear. The number Romney pulled out of his head is one that would require financing for the majority of Americans, suggesting that he won’t just prove his point but he’ll hurt you in the process. Or, he’s just clueless about how much $10,000 really is. Either way it doesn’t it reinforces the “out of touch” label Romney would like to shed.

    • Xunzi Washington

      I think if one of these candidates shat him/herself on stage on live TV during the debate it would be “much ado about nothing considering the field.”

      • Cindyflo

        Ha ha!!! Xunzi, I love seeing your posts – are you my brother? Normally I just smile and nod, but this time I actually have to give you a +1! :-)

  • Holmes

    “Romney values money and those who possess money much more than democratic political leaders usually do.”

    Three thing wrong with this statement: (1) most political leaders in the U.S. are crazed to the point of obsession with people who possess great wealth; (2) you are not just noticing this now; and (3) what you are really trying to say is that Romney is sinking like a stone and you want to jump ship but you need a cover story.

  • Graychin

    If you don’t know why the $10,000 bet was so bizarre, I don’t think I can explain it to you.

    It has something to do with why you like Romney. You look at him and see yourself – elitist to the core.

    • CautiousProgressive

      Elitism isn’t innately a bad thing.

      Personally, when I vote, I want to chose the most educated, informed, capable, and clever individual who can reasonably be expected to uphold something similar to my values.

      This is elitism. And I doubt many people would disagree with it.

      • Graychin

        Your point is well-taken. Progressives were accused of “elitism” for mocking the know-nothingism of Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. But defining “elitism” that far down strips the word of all meaning.

        Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are “educated, informed, capable, and clever.” Both are described as “elitist” by their detractors – Obama the community organizer, Romney the vulture capitalist.

        I can’t picture Obama offering $10,000 bets or carrying no currency smaller than a $100 bill.

        Words are failing me in expressing what I am trying to say. Can anyone help?

        • SFTor1

          Mitt Romney said: “You wanna bet?” And he was serious.

          These are words usually heard from a roob in a shiny suit who has had one Jack and Ginger too many. Betting big is just another way for the dick-less to show off.

          To say it in a Presidential debate is a measure of how oblivious a guy like this can get. Most of the TV audience will work for three months for that amount. Many people will be missing just that much to make ends meet this year. This from the guy who loves to repeat “I know how the economy works.”

          He put his vulgarity, and his lack of consideration, kindness, and class, on display. The only thing missing was him fishing a roll of greasy notes out of his pocket.

          Simple as that.

  • ottovbvs

    Poor old David trying to put lipstick on the pig. Should he be the nominee Romney’s record of breaking up companies and laying off thousands is going to be on the front burner and this little incident (minor in itself) will be background music.

  • beowulf

    Well, it could have been worse, he could have actually pulled out a $10,000 bill from his wallet as he said that.

  • budgiegirl

    In addition to being a rather thoughtless comment in terms of his image, I also thought it looked very amateur (was going to say Bush League, but i don’t even think Bush made this type of unforced error in his debates). He just looked like he lost his cool, and in his state of fluster, made what appeared like a grade-school bet. I was waiting for him to say “pinky promise”. It reminded me just a tad of when Al Gore tried to intimidate George Bush by walking next to him in the middle of a debate. These types of tactics do not come across as presidential on a televised debate.

  • nuser

    Dear Mr. Frum
    Wer reitet so spat duhr Nacht und Wind?
    Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind.

    • Baron Siegfried

      Dem Vater grauset’s, er reitet geschwind,
      Er hält in Armen das ächzende Kind,
      Erreicht den Hof mit Müh’ und Not;
      In seinen Armen das Kind war tot.

      We can still avoid this fate, if we hold true to that which we truly are. We are Americans, noble, tolerant, and just. If not, then we deserve what befalls us.

  • Reflection Ephemeral

    I guess I’m in the minority judging by this thread, but I don’t feel an acerbic response to this post at all. Frum’s been a Republican all his adult life, I think, and it’s been a profession as well as an identity. Now the party is crumbling around him, and he lacks the sense of self-preservation to lie about it or just ignore it and say mean things about Pres. Obama.

    That’s a well-trod, way easier path– just follow the example of George Will or Tucker Carlson or Charles Krauthammer or Ross Douthat or Reihan Salam, keep collecting the same salaries, fees, and honoraria, and keep hanging out with your old friends.

    And apostasy like Frum’s loses you friends on the right in Washington. Bruce Bartlett wrote about it a little while back:

    I was fired by a right wing think tank called the National Center for Policy Analysis in 2005 for writing a book critical of George W. Bush’s policies, especially his support for Medicare Part D. In the years since, I have lost a great many friends and been shunned by conservative society in Washington, DC. … I was discussing this a while back with a friend who went through a bitter divorce and we agreed that our experiences were comparable: you lose a lot of friends, it costs you vastly more than you imagined, and you’d think about it a lot harder if you knew the consequences. But in the end you would still do the same thing if you want to live with yourself.


    Or as Frum himself put it,

    During one unpleasant moment after I was fired from the think tank where I’d worked for the previous seven years, I tried to reassure my wife with an old cliché: “The great thing about an experience like this is that you learn who your friends really are.” She answered, “I was happier when I didn’t know.”


    I don’t think David Frum really wants to conclude that the $10K bet was an “ugly” moment, or that even the ostensibly sane people in today’s GOP have nothing to offer anyone making under around $90,000 a year. But that’s what he sees, and he’s unable to keep himself from writing about it. I think he deserves praise for this kind of post.

    • NRA Liberal

      I agree.

    • Baron Siegfried

      I can sympathize – I have been a member of and left organizations which were unable to walk their talk, to hold true to the values they espouse because of petty personality issues or naked greed. Sic Transit Gloria Replubicanii . . .

  • paul_gs

    Romney values money and those who possess money much more than democratic political leaders usually do.

    I don’t see how your quote supports that David. Saying a few flattering words about Sam Walton and Steve Jobs seems wholly insufficient in attempting to make your point.

  • Houndentenor

    The $10,000 bet only serves to reinforce what a lot of people already believe about Romney: he’s too rich to comprehend the economic reality of the middle and lower income family. The same is probably true of all the candidates from either party for as long as I can remember. But it’s not a good idea to make it this obvious.

    What’s most interesting is that all this evades the original point in the debate. Perry claimed that Romney had written a specific statement in a book. It shouldn’t be that hard to get a copy of that book (supposedly not the most recent edition) and show that the statement is there. That’s what Perry ought to have done (and still can do). The bet was a stunt to dismiss Perry’s accusation. That accusation is either true or false and if true is easily verified. Have at it, Rickster!

    • indy

      Lost in the uproar over the inelegant and childish response by Romney (which suggested an inexperience in dealing with people who are critical of you) is the fact that Rick Perry was indeed (intentionally?) misquoting Romney.

  • Oldskool

    Yeah, he ain’t ready for prime-time but that’s old news.

  • LFC

    Dumb comment, but it’s meaningless compared to the policies supported by Romney which would devastate our nation. Of course most of the rest of the field are even worse.

  • Rubicon

    Considering the impact of inflation I was unaware that any offense should have been taken.

  • Lonewolf

    Yes, I can certainly believe that a man who casually offers a wager equivalent to 1,486 hours’ wages (TX median, after withholdings, or 71% of a regular Joe-Bob’s annual full-time take-home pay), will understand Joe-Bob’s middle-class problems.

    Joe-Bob’s situation is that he’s been laid off, he’s being foreclosed on, his truck has been seized by the bailiffs, and his daughter owes $20,000 to a private college for a diploma that qualifies her to stock shelves at the Belmont, Mass. Walmart, refilling them every night shift with the Christmas toys that millionaire Romney buys there for his grandkids.

    But of course, the fabulously rich Romney understands. He’s helping, because by shopping there, he’s further enriching the Walmart heirs, 6 of which have together accumulated more wealth than the poorest 100 million Americans combined. He does so in the firm belief that someday, somehow it will trickle down to Jim-Bob and his daughter.

    Merry Christmas to you and your gold-plated grandkids, Mitt! Thanks for the boost!

  • valkayec

    Yes, it’s true Romney values money and those who have made plenty of it. The NY Times is running an article about how much he values money. But he’s certainly no exception to that kind of thinking or praising those who have built successful businesses and became wealthy along the way. As Americans, we tend to look up to these people and put them on a pedestal.

    But, at least for me, Romney’s mistake is one that far too many people who are wealthy make. That is, they either discard their understanding of middle class living conditions or never had any to begin with.

    When Romney looked around WalMart, did he see people struggling to make ends meet and doing their best to reduce their household costs? I’d offer a guess that those thoughts never entered into his mind.

    I remember prior to the ’08 election, the SEIU challenged each of the presidential candidates to spend just one day doing the work of an average American…and learning for themselves how those people with whom they were working lived. Only Obama and Clinton took up the challenge. Not one GOP candidate obliged.

    The reason I bring this event up is not to praise Obama or Clinton or the Dems, but to illustrate the vast chasm that exists between our politicians today, most of whom are very wealthy, and average middle class working people. To put it bluntly, they’re clueless…and have no idea what it takes to figure out how to survive on $20,000 or $40,000/yr. Nor do many of them have any real empathy for families with this kind of income because they do not experience it.

    • Rob_654

      “To put it bluntly, they’re clueless…and have no idea what it takes to figure out how to survive on $20,000 or $40,000/yr. ”

      I would put it more bluntly – the very wealthy like Romney do not know how to survive on $20,000 or $40,000 A MONTH let alone an entire year.

  • Demosthenes

    Romney looks, sounds, acts (and, I suspect, smells) like a rich phony pretending to be something he is not. End of discussion. He will not be the nominee. Get over your man crush, David. Romney is in free fall and will not recover.

    • Baron Siegfried

      Ah, yes . . . Thurston Howell III, everyman . . .

    • Demosthenes


      • Demosthenes

        I responded on another thread. I would note two additional things. First, I have been registered under my name here since the site opened. I just do not comment here that often. Second, I am named after a deceased Uncle Demosthenes (“Theo Demosthenes” in the native patois), so there are many of us. If you find my comments to be disagreeable, by all means feel free to respond. Kala Xristogenna!

  • zaybu

    I have nothing against being rich, but I do have a grind with those who use their wealth to corrupt the system.

    Having said that, Romney’s bet was juvenile. Did he do it to silence or intimidate Perry? Or to impress the base who is enamoured with the rich? Whatever. It certainly did not endear him to those who struggle from paycheck to paycheck.

  • Ray_Harwick

    But for what it’s worth, the incident made an impression on me,

    I read most of the post-debate commentary, including the live-blogging done on the Right and there doesn’t seem to be a single person who didn’t get the impression. The guy at Pajamas media almost stroked out. I got up and went outside in the cold of night for a smoke. I have had my moments of liking Mitt Romney but I PAID $10K for the house I live in right now. It was not a trival amount to me. How do I remain a conservative? I think it’s because I have a humane sense of freedom and justice that is not encumbered by the narcotic effect of cash. I actually belive that freedom applies to everyone and that everyone ought to be able to pursue their own happiness without being walled off from that pursuit by the whims of the Religious Right.

    • SeaTeaPea

      How do you remain a conservative? Because it’s what you believe. I think the bigger question is how does one remain a “Republican” or a “Democrat” when the parties and the politician’s in them don’t seem to have a clue. I happened onto this Teddy Roosevelt speech today while searching for something else. It’s remarkable how much it resonates with what’s going on today. http://www.ssa.gov/history/trspeech.html

  • Rob_654

    What I saw was a guy who professes his Mormon faith – but then betting?

    Here is the official Mormon stance on gambling: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is opposed to gambling, including lotteries sponsored by governments. Church leaders have encouraged Church members to join with others in opposing the legalization and government sponsorship of any form of gambling.


    So not only did Romney make himself out to be a rich guy to whom $10,000 is just something you bet with no a handshake – he also threw his faith under the bus to make such a wager.

    So we have Newt who is on his third wife, third religion and who bangs women – not his wife – because of his love of country.

    We have Romney who has no clue about what average Americans deal with, made much of his current wealth off the back of American Workers he canned either close up companies or send jobs overseas to make a quick buck, and who apparently doesn’t have the ability to know if his own professed faith.

    And these are the front runners…

    • Baron Siegfried

      Three Hail Brighams and a Novena . . ?

    • Lonewolf

      If Nixon, a cussin, poker-playin Quaker could get hisself ‘lected twice, ‘thout folks callin him a hippycrit, why not a dice-rollin Mormon like ole Mitt? Frankly, wut we need right nowza feller who’s not afraid to send another drone out over Tehran, call Meenijad up on th’ red phone an holler “DOUBLE ‘R NOTHIN, YA HEATHEN TERRIST!”

  • Woodrow

    I don’t mind Romney’s bet, even though I realize it did not look so good. When I think “awkward, out of touch, inadequately reactionary for his party, patrician”, I think of George Herbert Walker Bush.

    And when I think of THAT Bush, I think to myself: “I miss him. I wouldn’t mind someone like that as President!”

  • Carney

    There’s nothing at all wrong with Romney’s quote about businesses. He was IN a business building when the thought came to him. Trying to strain that into something damning is ridiculous.

    • Demosthenes

      I agree with you that the quote David provides is thin evidence in support of his claim, but do you deny the basic validity of his claim (viz. that Romney has a character flaw when it comes to money)? We are all of course flawed in our own way, but it seems to me that Romney doesn’t “get” what it means to be financially insecure, and in these days of widespread financial insecurity it is difficult to understand how the electorate will be able to relate to Willard.