The president for the upper half
Romney actually said that. He might even believe it. Sometimes you want to go out of your way to wait before reacting to something. Thinking slowly never hurt anyone, at least not in print. But sometimes, your gut instinct is right.
Mother Jones' David Corn obtained this video, and no one (as of yet) is disputing its authenticity. Here is what Romney says:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax. [M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
Let's disregard the factual inaccuracies here, and there are many to disregard. It should be axiomatic that presidential candidates never, even in private, ever insult half of the American people. It should be double-mega axiomatic that he never do so in a room full of people.
Barack Obama, during the primary season in 2008, referred to rural voters who are "bitter" and "cling" to their guns and religion because they had deep economic anxieties. The remarks hurt Obama in the subsequent Pennsylvania primary, and Republicans (like VP nominee Paul Ryan) still use them today to bash the president as insensitive and out of touch. There is a grain of truth in these charges, which is why they've stuck.
This video is far worse on its face. Obama was, in a patronizing way, trying to explain why voters in certain areas voted against their economic interests. Romney is simply insulting half of the country in a way that right-wing talk radio show hosts do out of habit. If there is linguistic coding in his speech it is not very subtle: He's playing on the resentment that many conservatives have for the Obama coalition, and the idea that those who receive government aid don't deserve it; those who receive our money are moochers. And they of course happen to be disproportionately black and brown. (Disproportionately, maybe, but a majority are white; of the people he actually describes, half probably actually vote for Republicans. Think down-scale whites and seniors. Whoops!)
Does Romney believe this? Was he playing to the crowd? It sounded like he really believed it.
Forget the 47 percent. Independents may not be as economically liberal as the folks allegedly portrayed by Romney, but they are absolutely scared to death of telling their neighbor that they voted for someone with such intolerant views. That is, the skin and packaging of a candidate does indeed matter to independents. Indies have very trigger-sensitive ears to hints of condescension. These are the types of people who decry divisive partisanship.
The only way that Romney’s strategists will try to salvage this video internally is to tell themselves that independents aren't going to vote for Romney anyway, and that this video might really rally some extreme elements of the conservative base. Or maybe, independents will say to themselves: "Damn it, you know what? He's right."
Good luck with that one.
NB: who leaked this video to Corn? When was it shot? (Corn says he wants to protect his source so he can't reveal it.) Did the Obama campaign have this in their pocket, ready to release it when Romney was just about dead in the water anyway?