Romney's remarks are the GOP equivalent of Obama's notorious comments about small-town Pennsylvania voters bitterly clinging to their guns and religion.
Both Romney and Obama highlighted the condescending attitude that political elites hold of the people they want to rule over. A National Journal survey found that 59 percent of political insiders don't think voters know enough to have meaningful opinions on the important issues of the day. That's a handy rationalization for those who want to ignore the voters and impose their own agenda.
In the nation's capital, this gap creates bigger problems for Republicans than Democrats. Democratic voters tend to think that their representatives in Congress do a decent job representing them. That's because Democrats are a bit more comfortable with the idea of government playing a leading role in American society. However, 63 percent of Republican voters believe their representatives in Washington are out of touch with the party base.
Establishment Republicans in Washington broadly share the Democrats' view that the government should manage the economy. They may favor a somewhat more pro-business set of policies than their Democratic colleagues, but they still act as if government policy is the starting point for all economic activity.
Republican voters reject this view. They are more interested in promoting free market competition rather than handing out favors to big business. They detest corporate welfare and government bailouts, even though their party leaders support them.
The GOP base sees government as a burden that weighs the private sector down rather than a tool that can generate growth if used properly. Ninety-six percent of Republican voters believe that the best thing the government can do to help the economy is to cut spending and free up more money for the private sector.
The Republican base is looking for someone like a 21st century Ronald Reagan, who will display his faith in the American people. The Washington Republicans are more comfortable with politicians like George W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney. Though the establishment has dominated the party since Reagan left the White House, the 2012 election could well be the end of the line.
If Romney loses in November, the Republican base will no longer buy the electability argument for an establishment candidate. From the view of the base, the elites will have given away an eminently winnable election. Someone new, from outside of Washington, will be the party's nominee in 2016.
If Romney wins and does nothing to change the status quo, the economy will falter. He will end up as the second straight one-term president, and the nation will desperately be searching for an authentic outsider in 2016.
If he wins the White House, the only way for Romney to succeed will be to side with the nation's voters and throw out the club in Washington. That will be great news for the country but bad news for political insiders on both sides of the partisan aisle.