Most people seem to think Romney’s comments won’t affect the race that much. I’m inclined to agree, but I think there are two main ways that it could make an impact.
I’m starting from the premise that Romney’s comments are an utterly orthodox conservative view, held in the same form or worse by most Republican partisans inclined to vote for him. It’s the message that Republican partisans have been hearing on Fox News since forever. It sounds terrible to most people, but it’s what the right wing believes.
So I see two channels by which this could affect the race.
One is swing voters. Romney can’t really back off this message. The base loves it, so he can’t really renounce it. He can try to waffle a little to make it sound less nasty, but he’s not going to take back the core point that people who don’t pay federal income taxes are shiftless losers. Conservative media figures and Tea Party people think this is a winning message. They’re wrong, but it’s the fight they want to have, and they’re going to push hard on it. If the base runs wild with this Randian stuff, the effect could be to remind a big chunk of swing voters why they hate Republicans.
The other channel is by depressing Republican morale, and thus turnout. Check out what’s been happening today. Scott Brown won’t say if he still supports Romney for President. Linda McMahon’s distancing herself from his argument and so is NM Governor Susana Martinez. Senate Republicans aren’t taking questions about it. Conservative partisans are going to experience this pushback as very demoralizing. The official party doesn’t want anything to do with a message that they desperately want to make this election about. If downballot candidates start rejecting Romney and the makers-and-takers message, this could translate into a widening enthusiasm gap favoring Democrats, as more Republicans stay home.