Turns out, Mitt Romney didn’t really mean it when he apologized and said he had been “just completely wrong” about “the 47%.”
Those who didn’t buy Romney’s October mea culpa for his biggest campaign stumble got confirmation Wednesday that the Republican presidential candidate really did, and does, believe that half of Americans are waiting for a handout.
The first time Romney held forth on America’s moocher class, video captured the moment. This time, on Wednesday, it was the L.A. Times’s Maeve Reston and a New York Times reporter listening in as the Republican presidential nominee again delivered his version of the truth. And again, the audience consisted of the candidate's fat-cat donors.
VIDEO: Discussing Romney's 'gifts' remarks
The onetime private equity magnate would have an “optics” problem if he wanted to run for office ever again. But since he’s done with politics, his latest moment of unintended public candor goes down, instead, as testament to how little Romney understood politics and the American people.
“The Obama campaign was following the old playbook of giving a lot of stuff to groups that they hoped they could get to vote for them and be motivated to go out to the polls, specifically the African American community, the Hispanic community and young people,” Romney told hundreds of donors during a telephone town hall. “In each case they were very generous in what they gave to those groups.”
Romney went on to detail the particular “gifts” the president had spread around. Young people surely went for Obama because he offered a plan to partially forgive college loan interest. Latinos were bought off, of course, because Obama had approved “amnesty,” Romney's term for the the executive order that prevents deportation of some young people brought to the U.S. by their immigrant parents. African Americans, and all the others, went with the president because he offered “free healthcare,” via Obamacare, “in perpetuity.”
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There’s not a winning political candidate or campaign that doesn’t make some calculation about how its policies will appeal to particular voting blocs. But Romney, whose career in finance flourished because of relentless bottom-line calculus, had reduced the entire political equation to merely that: He who gives out the goodies wins the most votes.
His explanation is beyond simplistic, ahistorical and more than a little self-serving. Didn’t polls show throughout the election year that most Americans opposed healthcare reform? Didn’t Republicans think the policy would prove so problematic that they hung it around the president’s neck, with the epithet “Obamacare?” How many candidates have won the White House just by delivering up pork?
Romney couldn’t be expected to acknowledge that he offered up “gifts” of his own: extended tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, a shredding of the regulations that would keep big investors from running amok, unfettered access for big energy companies to America’s wildlands.
One of the most striking, and persistent, results of public opinion polls throughout 2012 was how the public felt about the two men running for the Oval Office. At the bottom, a majority of Americans felt President Obama understood people like them.
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They trusted putting the country in his hands for four more years, not simply because he gave them gifts, but because they thought he had their overall best interests at heart. They felt the investment whiz who made millions flipping companies didn’t understand the struggles of people like them. The voters assessed, not single issues or transactions that could be tabulated on a balance sheet, but an entire relationship they would have with whomever they put in the Oval Office.
Romney’s best self—the one that gave tirelessly and deeply to his fellow parishoners in the Mormon church and who worked with opponents to make progress in Massachusetts—made an appearance now and then. But that Mitt Romney didn't seem, often enough, like the one who was running for president.