Impolitic Remarks

In the general election campaign, the presidential candidates are seeking to reach just a small segment of the electorate.  Mitt Romney described this, rather inartfully...

On Sept. 17, 2012 Mother Jones' David Corn posted a secretly made video from a Mitt Romney fundraiser earlier in the year.1  Responding to a question about how he could win, Romney stated: 

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.

And I mean the president starts off with 48, 49...he starts off with a huge number.  These are people who pay no income tax.  Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax.  So our message of low taxes doesn't connect.  He'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich.  I mean, that's what they sell every four years.  And so my job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.  What I have to do is convince the five to ten percent in the center that  are independents, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy or not....

Romney's broadly dismissive remarks recall the incident from the 2008 campaign in which an attendee secretly recorded then Sen. Obama's remarks at a fundraiser in San Francisco in April 6, 2008.  

"You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter,  they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Perhaps the atmosphere of fundraising events, where candidates seek to curry favor with like-minded individuals, encourages such remarks.  In any event, the Democratic National Committee's rapid response unit made sure that reporters and others saw the Romney video.  The Obama campaign responded with a statement:


CHICAGO – “It's shocking that a candidate for President of the United States would go behind closed doors and declare to a group of wealthy donors that half the American people  view themselves as ‘victims,’ entitled to handouts, and are unwilling to take ‘personal responsibility’ for their lives.  It’s hard to serve as president for all Americans when you’ve disdainfully written off half the nation.”  Jim Messina, Obama for America Campaign Manager

1.  The video was from a May 17 fundraising dinner hosted by Marc J. Leder, co-founder and co-CEO of Sun Capital Partners, Inc., a private equity firm, at his home in Boca Raton, FL. (+)

2. Republicans responded by touting a 1:36 audio clip of Obama speaking at an Oct. 19, 1998 conference at Loyola University. 

...What that means then is that as we try to resuscitate this notion that we’re all in this thing together, leave nobody behind, we do have to be innovative and thinking what are the delivery systems that are actually effective and meet people where they live. And my suggestion, I guess would be that the trick, and this is one of the few areas where I think there are technical issues that have to be dealt with as opposed to just political issues. I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure everybody’s got a shot...

However, audio-only, 14-year old clip had much less impact.  Also, the clip cuts off Obama's next sentence, "How do we pool resources at the same time as we decentralize delivery systems in ways that both foster competition, can work in the marketplace, and can foster innovation at the local level and can be tailored to particular communities."