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Romney: Can he recover from the ‘47 percent’ video?

Romney's presidential campaign was already in chaos when Mother Jones released a video of the candidate at a fundraising dinner.

Mitt Romney “just lost the election,” said Josh Barro in Bloomberg.com. His Republican presidential campaign was already in chaos this week, after open dissent within Republican ranks over the campaign’s ineffective messaging, and polls that showed him falling behind in most critical battleground states, including Florida and Ohio. Then came “utter disaster”: a video, released by Mother Jones, of Romney addressing donors at a closed-door Florida fundraising dinner. In response to a question about his electoral strategy, Romney says he has no chance to win the votes of the 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal income tax, that these people “believe they are victims” and are so dependent on government handouts that they’ll vote for President Obama “no matter what.” He adds, “My job is not to worry about those people.” At a hastily arranged press conference, a shaken Romney explained that he’d been speaking “off the cuff” and that “of course I want to help all Americans,” said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. But it was too late. Seven weeks before the election, we’ve finally seen the real Mitt Romney: a “sneering plutocrat” with real contempt for senior citizens, the working poor, and nearly half the nation that he seeks to lead.

“Sure, Mitt could have phrased things more elegantly,” said Michael Walsh in NationalReview.com.But if he’s smart he can use this as a “Gettysburg moment” to take the fight to the enemy, and turn around what has been a listless campaign. Rather than apologize for his remarks, Romney should “own them,” and explain to voters why it’s “fundamentally undemocratic” for nearly half of the nation to pay no federal income tax, and why Americans’ growing dependence on government is a threat to our national character. Romney is guilty only of “telling the truth,” said Michael Goodwin in the New York Post. This election really is a battle between the half of the nation that wants the government to do more, and the half that “knows the government already does too much.” After weeks of too-cautious vagueness, Romney is now liberated to make this election a clear debate over “the role and size of government.”

Romney can’t win that debate if he sounds like Thurston Howell III, said David Brooks in The New York Times. The 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal income tax aren’t “moochers”; this group includes many retired seniors, low-paid veterans, and white men with high school degrees who’ve lost jobs and can’t pay all their bills. Even though the entitlement state has expanded, “America remains one of the hardest-working nations on Earth.” Romney’s ugly vision of an America divided between hard-working makers and indolent takers is an ignorant “country-club fantasy”—what “self-satisfied millionaires say to each other.” Don’t blame Romney for echoing “this gibberish,” said Michael Tomasky in TheDailyBeast.com. As is his wont, he was telling this particular audience what it wanted to hear: “All Democrats are moochers, and all moochers are Democrats.”

True conservatives don’t believe that, said Peggy Noonan in WSJ.com.We believe that hard work, ambition, and self-reliance are common American values, not values held by only half the nation. Romney’s dismissal of so many struggling people as lazy parasites betrayed a woefully “small and pinched and narrow” understanding of this country. He still has time to relaunch what has been “an incompetent campaign,” but among Republicans, there is now a “broad and growing feeling” that this eminently winnable election is “slipping out of Romney’s hands.”

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