This is not where Mitt Romney wants to be in a week that was supposed to be about resetting and refocusing his efforts after a bumpy entry in to the crucial post-Labour Day presidential campaign.
In a video obtained by Mother Jones magazine – and posted on Monday – Mr. Romney can be seen telling an audience of wealthy donors at a May 17 fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla., that his job is not to worry about the “47 per cent” of Americans who have a “victim” and “entitlement” mentality, pay no federal income tax and are solidly in President Barack Obama’s column.
"[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives," he said.
The recording is a candid assessment by the wealthy businessman about his strategy – which, as he tells the audience, is to appeal to the “5 to 10 per cent in the centre.” This sliver of the electorate, according to Mr. Romney, consists of people who are “independents,” “thoughtful,” and vote based on “whether they like the guy or not.”
And therein lies the problem for the former head of Bain Capital whose personal fortune is estimated to be more than $250-million: he is not making progress when it comes to being likeable. His latest language once again reinforces the image of an out-of-touch plutocrat running for the White House.
He’s done it several times on the campaign trail – whether it’s making $10,000 bets during televised debates, talking-up his wife’s two Cadillacs, or having friends who own NASCAR racing teams.
Following his Florida primary win in January, he used the phrase “I’m not concerned about the very poor” during a morning-after CNN interview – surprising the journalist doing the interview.
In its entire context, Mr. Romney was making a larger point.
“I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich. They’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95 per cent of Americans who right now are struggling,” he said.
What followed was a stream of ‘what he meant to say’ stories and an opening for Democrats to frame the eventual GOP nominee as someone who could never serve as president for all Americans. This morning, it was the same thing.
The Romney campaign sought to clarify the candidate’s “47 per cent” comment and surrogates took to the networks to defend Mr. Romney.
"First of all, we're not bashing them [the 47 per cent]," Romney adviser Bay Buchanan told CNN, adding that Mr. Romney was only stating the obvious: that part of the electorate is with the President, another part of the electorate is with Mr. Romney, and then there are those in the middle which the campaign is trying to appeal to.
At a news conference in Los Angeles on Monday, Mr. Romney stood by his comments about the 47 per cent and did not apologize – only saying that he had "spoken off the cuff” and that the argument was not “elegantly stated.”
“So how DO you "elegantly state" that half of America sees themselves as "victims," who refuse to take personal responsibility?” tweeted senior Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod.
Mr. Romney was almost right about the percentage of Americans who pay no federal income tax. In 2011, it was 46 per cent.
As pointed out by Politico, while many Americans do not pay federal income tax, they do pay federal payroll taxes, excise taxes, and state income taxes – and half of those who don’t pay any federal income tax are, in fact, underemployed; the other half use deductions for the elderly and the working poor.
Conservative and left-leaning bloggers debated the overall impact of Mr. Romney comments – some calling it a devastating ‘gaffe’ while others wondered why the GOP presidential candidate was not being more outspoken on the campaign trail.
“Folks in the media are asking, ‘How could he say this?’ Folks on the Right, who see a growing dependency mentality sucking away the nation’s drive, work ethic and independence, are asking, ‘How could he say this only behind closed doors?’” writes conservative blogger Jim Geraghty at National Review Online.
At the left-leaning Talking Points Memo, editor and publisher Josh Marshall, had a different take, describing the video as “absolutely devastating” and a “fine distillation of the most rancid version of the libertarian conservative worldview.”
“Democrats are moochers and losers who can’t get their act together and think the government owes them food, board, health care and basically whatever else they want,” writes Mr. Marshall.