It can be difficult to say what will and won’t define a person’s political career. Some great deeds are forgotten, for example, while others are lionized. Likewise, misdeeds can become scandals for one politician even as similar behavior from another goes unnoticed. This seems especially true for statements: some lawmakers have likely found that a comment made in passing can go on to represent a significant part of the public’s perception of their career. While there are plenty of instances of this throughout history, one of the best recent examples is former presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s statement about “binders full of women.” However, in a recent interview, Romney stated that he doesn’t believe his comments about this popular organizational tactic and women in politics harmed his campaign.
In 2012, Romney drew national attention when he answered a question about gender pay inequality with an anecdote about his time as the governor of Massachusetts: according to Romney, he was assembling his cabinet when he realized all of the potential members were male. While his staff reportedly told him that these men were all of the qualified applicants, Romney said he reached out to women’s groups, who gave him “binders full of women” to choose from. This peculiar turn of phrase immediately caught the nation’s attention, most likely because Romney had frequently been accused of being removed from average Americans during his campaign. Immediately, voters on both sides of the aisle began making jokes about his odd phrasing (“What kind of binders, Mitt? 5 x 8 3 ring binders? Small 3 ring binders? Or did you just buy 1 inch binders in bulk? Why cheap ring binders and not some sort of online document?”) and almost 30,000 people followed social media groups dedicated to the gaffe within days.
But now, almost three years later, Romney called the anecdote a straightforward remark and said he doubted he had lost any votes for it; after all, he did receive several cheap ring binders filled with the resumes of potential female cabinet members. Instead, he commented that he wished he had spent more time reaching out to minority groups. He also said that he chose not to pursue a second campaign because he realized he wasn’t the right person to move the Republican party forward.
It is now nearly impossible to determine if he is right, as too much time has passed. However, a number of critics have since commented that the anecdote went viral for the wrong reasons: firstly, it appears women’s groups brought the cheap ring binders to Romney instead of the other way around, and even then, he appointed few female cabinet members. Secondly, the story didn’t actually answer the original question, a fact that some might call representative of his attempts to appeal to a wide swath of voters, which often left him seeming undefined. But now that Romney has put the matter behind him, it seems that the American public will have to find another source for their bad office supply jokes. But honestly…do you think he separated the women with numbered dividers?