Mitt Romney’s statement “I like to fire people” certainly sounds far worse when taken out of context. It is being compared to John Kerry’s gaffe, “I voted for it before I voted against it.” Both quotes have quite different meanings when heard in full context. Romney likes to be able to be able to get rid of insurance companies which don’t do the job (failing to acknowledge that this is exactly what he would be able to do with the exchanges which are to be set up under Obama’s health care plan). Kerry was explaining that he did not oppose military spending and that he did vote for the spending in one bill while he voted against it in a subsequent bill due to a change in how it would be funded.
The problem is that Kerry’s line out of context reinforced the attack on him as being a flip-flopper while Romney’s line makes him sound like an evil member of the one percent as opposed to being a jobs creator. This could wind up hurting Romney because of the determination of Newt Gingrich to undermine Romney’s campaign during the primaries. In this way in is somewhat analogous to Al Gore first raising the Willie Horton attack against Michael Dukakis before the Republicans. (On the other hand, Gore did not make the attack in the same manner as the Republicans later did.) It was one thing for conservatives to say Mitt Romney is not conservative enough, potentially helping Romney in a general election campaign. The latest attacks, including taking this line out of context as well as some valid criticism of Romney’s business record, can undermine Romney’s arguments in a general election campaign.
It remains to be seen how severe this line will hurt Romney’s election chances. One thing is clear. If there ever was a chance that Donald Trump would be made Romney’s running mate, this makes such a move far less likely.