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Mitt Romney’s Ford Field Fumble

Mitt Romney gave what was billed in advance as a major economic speech before the Detroit Economic Club, but the only thing that people seemed to have noticed was the venue:

Presidential politics is all about the image that you see on television. And by that measure, Mitt Romney’s speech from Ford Field in Detroit did not look that bad.

Mr. Romney could be seen standing at a lectern in front of a backdrop that had the logo of the Detroit Economic Club. And when the audience — about 1,200 people — clapped, they filled the TV screen as cameras panned across them.

But in the age of Twitter and the Internet, that is not all that matters.

Even before the speech started, reporters began tweeting out pictures of the 65,000-seat stadium — completely empty, except for the chairs set up on the field itself, near the 20-yard line.

Row after row of empty blue seats in the huge stadium made the crowd seem minuscule, especially compared with the images of stadiums filled with screaming fans that TV viewers are used to.

And the comparisons do not stop there.

Reporters quickly started posting pictures of the stadium speeches President Obama gave at similar point in his primary campaign four years ago. One, at a stadium in Hartford, was almost filled to capacity — about 16,000 seats.

Mr. Obama rallied with 14,000 in Boise, Idaho, 18,000 in Minneapolis and more than 20,000 in St. Louis in February 2008.

It is true that Mr. Romney’s campaign did not treat this speech as a rally, making no attempt to fill the stadium. This was an economic speech that was moved to Ford Field after the number of people who wanted to attend grew larger than the earlier location could allow.

But in politics, it is always better to show an overly crowded venue than an overly empty one. So the decision to move the event to Ford Field was an unfortunate one for Mr. Romney.

To be fair to the Romney campaign, the decision to move the venue of the speech — which was originally scheduled to take place in an indoor meeting space at the stadium that holds about 700 people — was made by the Detroit Economic Club, which sponsored the speech. Nonetheless, one would have thought that someone in Romney’s campaign would have seen what was going to happen here (the photograph above only gives a small indication of what it looked like). According to some reporters, the size of the stadium meant that anyone who wasn’t close into where Romney was speaking was subjected to the inevitable echo effect that one gets in a large, empty space. Is it really possible that the campaign couldn’t have said to the sponsor that the speech should remain indoors, just so they could avoid what looks for all the world like an embarrassing visual? I find it hard to believe that the Club wouldn’t have accommodated whatever it was the campaign wanted to do.

Leaving the visuals aside, though, the speech itself wasn’t really much of anything to write home about. The specifics of Romney’s revised economic plan had been leaked to the press (by the campaign) days ago, so there wasn’t any breaking news in the speech. Even if there had been though, Romney didn’t really get into that many specifics anyway. Instead of a major policy address to an important regional business group, it sounded like the same old stump speech we’ve been hearing for months. Romney even used the line about the trees in Michigan being just the right height, whatever that means. Then, in the middle of a paragraph about the auto industry, Romney went off script and stuck his foot in his mouth:

DETROIT — For Mitt Romney, ad-libbing is becoming a liability.

At the end of a 35-minute speech Friday to the Detroit Economic Club at this city’s football stadium, Romney offered yet another YouTube-worthy moment for his GOP rivals to exploit — reminding the well-heeled executives that his family owns four Detroit-made cars, including two Cadillacs. Though they may be made in Michigan, owning two of the pricey cars — which cost between $35,000 and $49,000, according to the campaign — will only reinforce the image that he’s out of touch with working-class Americans.

It was the latest verbal flub for a candidate who has a reputation for being over-scripted — Romney hasn’t held a press availability since Feb. 8, the day after losing Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri to Rick Santorum.

But in reality, Romney is at times surprisingly under-scripted and has gotten himself into trouble when speaking off-the-cuff.

“I love this country. Actually I love this state,” he said in Detroit Friday. “This feels good, being back in Michigan. You know, the trees are the right height. The streets are just right. I like the fact that most of the cars I see are Detroit-made automobiles. I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck. Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually. And I used to have a Dodge truck, so I used to have all three covered.”

The quip — Romney’s conclusion to a crowd of 1,200 suit-clad onlookers and 65,000 empty seats at Ford Field — instantly overshadowed the news the campaign had hoped to make: Introduction of his plan to increase the Medicare eligibility age from the current 65 by one month each year.

With only three days to go until Tuesday’s competitive Michigan primary, Romney also repeated his argument that no one else in the GOP field can defeat President Barack Obama in the general election.

“I not only think I have the best chance, I think I have the only chance,” he said. “Maybe I’m overstating it a bit. … It’s always hard to defeat an incumbent president, even an ineffective one like Jimmy Carter.”

But it will be the “two Cadillacs” quip that makes the event memorable. The line instantly exploded on Twitter and was posted to YouTube by Democratic groups within minutes

Of course it will be, because it plays into the same image that Romney has tried to shed for the past year or more and the idea that he is out of touch with the concerns and experiences of average Americans. Now personally I don’t care how many cars Mitt and Ann Romney own. If they can afford them, more power to them. This is politics, however, and the worst thing a candidate can do is hand your opponent the ammunition to use against you. That’s exactly what Romney keeps doing, whether it’s this, or the line about how he likes firing people (which was taken out of context, of course), or the entire income tax issue.

The real problem for Romney, though, is that unforced errors like this — and by that I mean the bad choice of venue, the lackluster speech, and the line about the Cadillacs — chip away at the only real argument for his candidacy, the argument that he’s the best candidate to beat Barack Obama in the fall. Every time something like this happens, one has to think that even Romney supporters look at it and cringe a little at the thought of what it’s going to be like to see this guy go up against Barack Obama in the fall. Right now, Romney benefits from the fact that he’s running against three men who look, and are, much worse than him by comparison, and who would look even more ridiculous standing next to Barack Obama during the fall campaign. That’s not going to be the case after he’s the nominee, though, and one has to wonder how many Republican powerbrokers are wishing that there was someone better than Romney in the race right now.

Photo via @MattOrtega on Twitter

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Peacewood says:

    Good grief, I don’t think even Obama could have filled that stadium at the height of Obamamania.

    Optic fail, indeed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  2. Brummagem Joe says:

    Politics 101…if you’re going to hold a public meeting make sure the hall is smaller than the expected audience.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  3. Ron Beasley says:

    @Brummagem Joe: As long as Romney has been running for public office he and his political team seem to have very little understanding of politics. Certainly 700 people crammed into a small venue would have been better than 1200 dwarfed by the venue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  4. @Brummagem Joe:

    And don’t leave venue selection up to a third party that may not have the best interests of the campaign at heart.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  5. James Joyner says:

    Well, in fairness, Romney knows how many Mercedes his wife owns. That’s a huge improvement over our 2008 nominee, who didn’t know how many houses his wife owned.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 1

  6. Jr says:

    Whoever came up with this idea needs to be fired.

    In politics, you always pick a smaller venue. It is better to have an overflow of people then empty space. It is baffling that a man who has been running for 6 years didn’t now see this coming.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  7. Hey Norm says:

    C’mon…I’m not rich by any means and I own 2 cars, a p/u truck, and a motorcycle…and I’m shopping for an additional motorcycle. What Romney’s quiver of cars contains matters not one whit.
    As for Republicans cringing? It’s more than optics.
    http://swampland.time.com/2012/02/24/did-jeb-bush-actually-say-that/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Is it really possible that the campaign couldn’t have said to the sponsor that the speech should remain indoors, just so they could avoid what looks for all the world like an embarrassing visual?

    Doug, for the record, Ford Field is a dome, so technically they were indoors.

    Also, I was a volunteer at that St. Louis Obama rally. I don’t know where the 20,000 # came from, but it felt to me at the time that it was more like 10-15,000. I always attributed the discrepancy to the fact that it was at the Edward Jones dome which seats 80,000 (?) and only the field was full. The off field seating was quite empty.

    So why were there no similarly embarrassing photo’s of Obama’s speech that night? Simple, it was dark. They literally kept all the lights out except for the spot on the speakers and the exit lights.

    Typical for a politician, Obama kept us in the dark and then fed us a lot of BS.

    (Beat you to it, didn’t I? ;-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 5

  9. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    And don’t leave venue selection up to a third party that may not have the best interests of the campaign at heart.

    Who chose the venue? The MI CoC? Gawd if they’re against him he is in trouble?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. Brummagem Joe says:

    @James Joyner:

    Well, in fairness, Romney knows how many Mercedes his wife owns.

    I thought it was caddies but there you go. Personally one caddy one honda.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: Hee hee.@Hey Norm:

    I own a Buick, a Chevy 1/2 ton p/u and a John Deere (cough-lawn-cough) tractor. What does that make me?

    Ps: the Buick is my work vehicle. Holds all my tools and gets 30 mpg. The truck is my “homestead” vehicle…. does all the hauling around and abouts here.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. @Brummagem Joe:

    I’m not sure who owns the venue, but the speech was sponsored by the Economic Club of Detroit. Apparently, when they announced the speech they sold out of the 700 person capacity of the original space in two days so then they decided to move it into the stadium itself,.

    My guess is the ECD was seeing dollar signs from ticket sales, or perhaps the bigger press exposure of actually having an event inside Ford Field. The campaign should have been on top of this because of the inevitable bad visuals.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    but the speech was sponsored by the Economic Club of Detroit.

    Is this a communist front group? I know MI quite well and the Economic Club of Detroit are unlikely to have any animus against Romney as you suggested.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. michael reynolds says:

    It’s part of Romney’s new strategy to humanize himself by humiliating himself.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  15. Barb Hartwell says:

    His next speech should be held in a port a potty

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  16. Cornell78 says:

    Empty suit addresses empty seats.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  17. MarkedMan says:

    There’s another story here. Romney gave an economic speech and they thought 700 seats would be adequate, but 1200 showed up. That’s interesting. Yes, Romney’s staff really screwed up here and they were left to deal with negative, rather than positive news. But I wonder if that overflow crowd is a shape of things to come in MI.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  18. Cornell78 says:

    Maybe next time Millionaire Mitt should tape a C-note under every seat.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  19. An Interested Party says:

    @Hey Norm: Poor Jeb…a shame his last name is Bush…surely he would wipe the floor with these clowns that are left in the GOP primary….

    So why were there no similarly embarrassing photo’s of Obama’s speech that night? Simple, it was dark. They literally kept all the lights out except for the spot on the speakers and the exit lights.

    One would think that with all of Mitt’s money, he could hire some people who could at least be as competent as this…

    It’s part of Romney’s new strategy to humanize himself by humiliating himself.

    That strategy is new?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  20. Cornell78 says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Don’t waste too much time wondering about Michigan…

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2012/president/mi/michigan_romney_vs_obama-1811.html

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. @Cornell78:

    No. He should do it Oprah style………..

    You get a car ! And you get a car! You all get cars!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  22. Cornell78 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    And thanks to Obama’s Detroit bailout Mitt can give away American cars.

    And in the trunk of every new GM car is a baby Michigan tree guaranteed to grow to “just the right height”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  23. @MarkedMan:

    Michigan will not be competitive in November. It’s as solidly in Barack Obama’s pocket as Illinois, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  24. Ernieyeball says:

    it will be the “two Cadillacs” quip that makes the event memorable

    Maybe…Cadillac was an exclusive car to me until my dad bought a used one in the late ’60s. About every four years until then he had bought new Fords, Dodges and a Studebaker since 1948. He was barely middle class.
    Here in Sleepytown at least one citizen sleeps in his old Caddy.
    Maybe Mitt can bring his campaign here and help the guy out.

    http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/mitt-romney-gives-money-to-unemployed-woman-at-campaign-stop/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. MarkedMan says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I was actually wondering what it says about the Santorum vs. Romney primary vote next week.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Michigan will not be competitive in November. It’s as solidly in Barack Obama’s pocket as Illinois, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia.

    Actually Doug I think most of the mid west will be. The upstream auto parts industry is spread all over the midwest. There’s no one who works in that industry who doesn’t understand the implications of the auto industry folding.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  27. Brummagem Joe says:

    @An Interested Party:

    So why were there no similarly embarrassing photo’s of Obama’s speech that night? Simple, it was dark. They literally kept all the lights out except for the spot on the speakers and the exit lights

    Is 15,000 considered embarrassing?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  28. jason says:

    This is more proof of the MSM bias in this country.

    The detroit economics club had control of the venue and needed a last minute venue.

    Detroit isn’t like NYC with loads of hotels to choose from. The last venue with 700 sold out and they needed room for 1,200.

    Tickets for non members were $100 and for members $45.

    This wasn’t a campaign rally and the venue wasn’t controlled by the romney campaign.

    The romney campaign wasn’t for the venue but they had only one choice give the speech at ford field or give no speech.

    This was a fundraiser for the detroit economics club who controlled the venue but the media isn’t talking about that.

    C-Span also did a pan of empty seats at ford field on the ground. There was a snowstorm and schools in the suburbs were cancelled. Some parents last minute couldn’t find a sitter on a friday morning and had to stay home home with their child who was home from school.

    But that hasn’t stopped reporters like byron york who posted pictures of empty seats on the ground. Just because it was wet in detroit doesn’t show that roads in the suburbs were snow covered and schools were closed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 13

  29. James says:

    I do wish we had more concern for what Mr. Romney was saying in Detroit, rather than how he looked.

    Also, @James Joyner: *rim shot*

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. Brummagem Joe says:

    @jason:

    This is more proof of the MSM bias in this country.

    But that hasn’t stopped reporters like byron york who posted pictures of empty seats on the ground.

    Er….Byron York is a notoriously conservative journalist who works for the Washington Examiner a notoriously right wing newspaper

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  31. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Brummagem Joe: B joe, if you saw the pictures the way way I saw reality, Yeah…. It would be embarrassing. And for the record; Obama had better handlers. They could see optics. Apparently Mitt’s are blind.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  32. Brummagem Joe says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    B joe, if you saw the pictures the way way I saw reality,

    Was it 15,000 as you said earlier or not? Regardless of the optics that’s not a bad number when the campaign hasn’t really started yet.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  33. RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL SON OF DETROIT (Bloomfied Hills)

    Today at Ford Field in Detroit Michigan, America witnessed a hollow, shapeshifting con artist who grew up in the elite suburbs of Detroit, Michigan and who proudly touts being a native son of Detroit though he once famously opined that the region’s leading industry ought to collapse entirely and go bankrupt, return to claim an economic mantle that does not belong to him but to responsible leaders who in a bipartisan fashion lead the rescue of Detroit’s Auto Industry. With the industry now thriving due to the action of responsible leaders who he now condemns and with his fortunes waning in his home state to a severely underfunded candidate who simply needed to point out the hypocrisy of this barren political opportunist to contend in the prodigal son’s home state, the hollow man put forth an empty economic vision which persuaded no one of his ability to lead but only further undercut whatever stature he still had. Romney ought to be coming hat in hand begging for forgiveness for being wrong rather than grandstanding and he might have a better chance of gaining broader support in his ‘home state.”. The empty stadium was filled with all of Romney;s local friends.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  34. DRS says:

    In the political campaigns I’ve worked on in the past, the organizers should have stayed with the 700-person venue, then broadcast the news that they had to turn away people. Romney’s campaign could have made up the lost revenue from the extra 500 people somehow or other later in the year. THAT would have been a great story – “they were fighting to get tickets!”

    As much as I don’t like Romney I do feel sorry for him; it’s an awful picture. But I find it hard to believe that his campaign staff couldn’t have swung a deal to let people sit in the stands; it would be a great chance to reward supporters and surely the ECD would have seen the importance of a larger crowd. It’s just mind-boggling.

    Romney’s campaign team is really sad. One of the claims of a front-runner is that he’s got the experienced staff to manage a national campaign and Team Romney is doing their best to blow that out of the water for him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  35. Ernieyeball says:

    @jason: “This was a fundraiser for the detroit economics club who controlled the venue but the media isn’t talking about that.”

    “Mr. Romney could be seen standing at a lectern in front of a backdrop that had the logo of the Detroit Economic Club.” NYT…
    “A spokesman for the Detroit Economic Club, which hosted the event,..” CBS News…
    “Romney addresses the Detroit Economic Club” Headline USA Today

    “But that hasn’t stopped reporters like byron york who posted pictures of empty seats on the ground.”

    I thought reporters were supposed to report what they see in front of them.
    Maybe Jason would have been happier with the seats photoshopped full of RomneyBots.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  36. Cornell78 says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    I love it when the reich-wing gets itself into a circular firing squad.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  37. anjin-san says:

    @ jason

    Poor thing. You are obviously a victim, as is Romney. Life is so unfair…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  38. An Interested Party says:

    Is 15,000 considered embarrassing?

    No, just many of Mitt’s public appearances…this guy makes Al Gore look polished and urbane by comparison…

    I do wish we had more concern for what Mr. Romney was saying in Detroit, rather than how he looked.

    True, but we live in a society where how things look is as important as what someone says…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  39. jukeboxgrad says:

    Every time something like this happens, one has to think that even Romney supporters look at it and cringe a little at the thought of what it’s going to be like to see this guy go up against Barack Obama in the fall.

    Isn’t it about time that Romney released his transcripts? People say he’s smart, but it seems that maybe he’s not really that smart.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  40. JBJB says:

    Surprised to see OTB buying into the lib MSM trope here (well, not surprised by Mataconis but that Joyner is piling on). As if Romney had much say in the location of the speech. I am actually surprised Romney buys crap made form Detroit (Cadillacs) when he has the means to purchase much higher quality transportation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  41. Cornell78 says:

    @JBJB:

    I am actually surprised Romney buys crap made form Detroit (Cadillacs) when he has the means to purchase much higher quality transportation.

    A nice Mercedes from “socialist” Germany perhaps?

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,592658,00.html

    Wonder if conservative Germans stupidly whined about their government helping out their auto industry like our American reich-wingers did?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  42. Brummagem Joe says:

    @JBJB:

    I am actually surprised Romney buys crap made form Detroit (Cadillacs) when he has the means to purchase much higher quality transportation.

    Natch…. Republicans like you aren’t expected to support the home team

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  43. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Cornell78:

    I love it when the reich-wing gets itself into a circular firing squad.

    It does have a certain poetic justice. They let loose these demons and now they’re destroying them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  44. Stan says:

    Ezra Klein, @ http://tinyurl.com/6srak34, gives an analysis of what Romney said in that near-empty stadium. Klein’s key paragraph:

    “What Romney is essentially proposing to do is finance a massive tax cut by cutting Medicaid, food stamps, housing subsidies and job training. In other words, the neediest Americans — and, to a lesser degree, federal workers — will be financing a massive tax cut.”

    On policy grounds there’s no reason why so many Republicans dislike Romney, unless they think he’s lying. Assuming he isn’t, he doesn’t differ that much from Gingrich and Santorum.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  45. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Was it 15,000 as you said earlier or not? Regardless of the optics that’s not a bad number when the campaign hasn’t really started yet.

    For starters Joe, I never said it was 15,000, I said it seemed to me to be in the 10-15,000. As most people know, estimating crowd size is an inexact art. The 20,000 could be correct. I do not know. But even if it was only 10,000, that would still be a respectable number.

    But that is not what this thread is about. This thread is about the optics of that picture and how Romney’s campaign fumbled it. My post was about how the Obama campaign was faced w/ a similar optics problem and how they handled it much better.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  46. Brummagem Joe says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    For starters Joe, I never said it was 15,000, I said it seemed to me to be in the 10-15,000.

    Oh boy you’re picking pepper out of fly poop here…..no need to get bent out of shape just because I observed as an aside that 15,000 seemed a pretty good number for Obama given the campaign hasn’t yet started.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  47. Neil Hudelson says:

    @jason:

    Detroit isn’t like NYC with loads of hotels to choose from. The last venue with 700 sold out and they needed room for 1,200.

    As someone whose family lives in Detroit, and knows the area quite well, this is a fair point. I would estimate that there is probably 2000 theaters, convention centers, hotels, playhouses, museums, and school facilities in the greater Detroit area that could hold that number. I mean, with only 2000 or so such facilities, they had to go to Ford Field.

    Look, it was bad optics no matter which way you swing it. Is it fair to Romney that his speech and message is overshadowed by bad optics? No. Does every candidate in every campaign make the same mistake at some point? Yes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  48. Paul says:

    Compare the size of Ron Paul’s crowd…

    http://www.dailypaul.com/216866/short-video-ron-paul-at-msu

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  49. A_Real_Engineer says:

    Ron Paul rallies to 4,200 people at Michigan State.

    At one of 3 rallies in a single day.

    Yet national media says, “no one will vote for him?”

    Any other politician sounds dumber than they ever have before, right after you’ve heard Ron Paul speak.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0