(The Root) — The secretly taped video in which Mitt Romney writes off 47 percent of voters as "victims" who lack a work ethic and don't pay income tax was revealed on the first anniversary of the Occupy Movement. That was just one of the "You can't make this stuff up" moments of the day. Another was that Romney, whose good deeds as part of his Mormon faith were heavily touted at the Republican National Convention, was taped at a fundraiser hosted by a financier who also throws sex parties.
But don't worry: The Romney event did not include the hedge fund manager's other type of hosting — lavish parties with Russian models and people having sex in the pool.
You absolutely, positively, cannot make this stuff up — but you can critique it, mock it or ignore it. The social media universe did all of those. In a campaign in which social marketing is highly influential and messaging can spiral out of control, this put the Romney campaign on the defensive — so much so that Romney hosted a three-question press conference in Orange County, Calif., on Monday night, the same night the tapes were revealed.
Greg Pinelo, a Democratic strategist and blogger, put it this way on Twitter: "If your campaign is forced to hold a 10 p.m. press conference, you have officially pooped the bed." Tressie McMillan Cottom, a Ph.D. candidate at Emory University who is also a blogger, tweeted: "So, the question becomes do poor/working class whites hate Obama more than they hate being essentially called poor white trash by rich guy?"
But from the Tea Party crowd on Twitter, whom I have been following extensively (largely via their #tcot hashtag), mum was the word. Instead, they focused on a social campaign called #ObamaMustGoBecause. Some of the examples were from Paul Tully (@Papatul) who wrote: "#ObamaMustGoBecause he answers to the Koran first and the Constitution second" and one from Pam Besteder (@pambesteder), a self-proclaimed Reagan conservative who tweeted: "#ObamaMustGoBecause it's time to get some grown ups in the White House." (As I've also learned, there are African-Americans in the #tcot camp, including Besteder.)
I've been tracking the impact of social media on campaigning in 2012, including teaching a class on the subject this spring at Harvard's Institute of Politics. A campaign like #ObamaMustGoBecause often works well, at least among a certain subset of devoted political followers. But the palpable silence about Romney's remarks was even more interesting to me than the anti-Obama chatter.
In many instances, critiques of the former Massachusetts governor are met with ire from the Tea Party social media crowd. But they stayed silent, even if a few prominent conservatives stepped up to defend Romney.
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That, that's an entitlement. And [they think] the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what … These are people who pay no income tax … My job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
Daniel Larison writes in the American Conservative: "There is no way to spin these comments in Romney's favor, just as there was no way to defend Romney's blunders on the embassy and consulate attacks last week … Many of the people Romney was disparaging in this video are reliably Republican voters, and they have just been reminded that their party's nominee has no respect for them. If 'respect conservatism' exists, this is the opposite of it."
Larison adds: "More than anything else, what makes this video damaging is that it confirms what most Americans already suspect about Romney: He holds at least half the country in contempt, including many of the people that normally vote Republican."
From my experiences traveling to meet Tea Party voters in Florida and Arizona, I can say that many of them are part of the 47 percent. (This map, for example, shows how many of those income tax "nonpayers" live in the South.)
For Romney, the silence about his comments among likely supporters on social media is deafening. Is this the moment where he loses not only swing voters but also some of his base? We'll know for sure in November, but between now and then we can expect a lot more analysis — on and off social media — of his comments.
Farai Chideya is a journalist, author and distinguished writer in residence at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.