Conservative commentators are reacting to Mitt Romney’s candid comments at a fundraiser, secretly taped and leaked to the media. While answering a question, Romney talks about 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay income taxes and are dependent on government.
Most conservative commentators appear willing to concede that it was an embarrassing gaffe, but that its impact on the race might be overstated.
The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol:
It’s worth recalling that a good chunk of the 47 percent who don’t pay income taxes are Romney supporters—especially of course seniors (who might well “believe they are entitled to heath care,” a position Romney agrees with), as well as many lower-income Americans (including men and women serving in the military) who think conservative policies are better for the country even if they’re not getting a tax cut under the Romney plan. So Romney seems to have contempt not just for the Democrats who oppose him, but for tens of millions who intend to vote for him.
It remains important for the country that Romney wins in November (unless he chooses to step down and we get the Ryan-Rubio ticket we deserve!). But that shouldn’t blind us to the fact that Romney’s comments, like those of Obama four years ago, are arrogant and stupid.
Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey
Almost exactly four years earlier, in another fundraiser secretly taped by an attendee, a major-party nominee made the same mistake as Romney and offered some political analysis of why large numbers of voters were probably unreachable in an election. The nominee — some also-ran named Barack Obama — told his urbane San Francisco crowd of supporters that people in the hinterlands were xenophobic and clung bitterly to their religion and guns in hard times, and would be difficult to win over. In fact, Obama made oblique references to that argument prior to that tape, occasionally talking about the handicap of having a “funny name” would be with some voters.
That is almost exactly the same kind of argument Romney made, only in the context of government assistance. How’d that work out for Obama? Not too bad, as I recall.
This instant-toast analysis is the product of a media with too much pressure to be profound and not enough perspective to resist it. We like to think that one utterance can decide elections, but it’s really not the case.
National Review’s Jonah Goldberg
These “gaffes” (scare quotes necessary because the term has lost a definite meaning beyond “controversial statement that gets a politician off message”) rarely seem as devastating as partisan opponents hope (though don’t tell that to Todd Akin).
Complaints about that far more offensive “bitter clinger” stuff remain staples of conservative rhetoric. But there’s still no evidence I know of that it hurt him much at all. I suspect Romney’s statement will have even less of a shelf life.
Before I continue on that point, let me concede that I think there are real flaws in what Romney said. The simple fact is that the 47 percent of the people who are “locked in” to vote against him aren’t locked-in because they’re dependent on the government, freeloaders or because they don’t pay any income taxes. That 47 percent refers to partisan identification which has, at best, only a loose connection with income and tax-paying.
Ultimately Romney’s division of the electorate has an odd Marxist twang to it, as if those dependent on government are simply voting their naked economic self-interest. Traditionally, it’s the Left that argues, a la Thomas Frank, that voting is — or should be — about your cold economic self-interest and nothing more. Thankfully, that’s not how most people vote, nor should it be.
Townhall’s Guy Benson:
Romney should not have implied that 47 percent of Americans are seeking government hand-outs, or see themselves as “victims.” Painting with this broad brush — the strokes of which certainly apply to a sizable chunk of Democrats’ core constituency — was unfair and a mistake. Many Americans with zero or negative federal income tax liabilities work hard and don’t ask much of government. Indeed, many of these people will vote for Mitt Romney in November. The Republican nominee also needs to stop saying that he doesn’t need to “worry” or be “concerned about” any group of Americans. Many of us understand what he means, but those clumsy formulations make it awfully easy for Democrats to point and yell, “he doesn’t care!” Learn, Mitt.
Red State’s Erick Erickson:
The Romney campaign should double down on what he said. They should own it. The trouble for the left and media (but I repeat myself) is that most Americans agree with Mitt Romney. Most Americans consider themselves part of the 53% and it is not a winning proposition for Barack Obama to convince Americans they are less than they think they are when most Americans already recognize he has made them less than they were.
Team Romney should force this debate onto the national stage. They should not walk it back. The American people are with him.