Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ladies and gentlemen, the real Mitt Romney

When shit rains, shit pours.
— John Heilemann, New York magazine

AT THIS WRITING there are 314.4 million people in the United States. Approximately 47 percent — 147.7 million of you — will be dismayed to discover that, in the diamond-encrusted world view of former Massachusetts governor and presidential hopeless Mitt Romney, you are “victims,” freeloaders, slackers, moochers, ne’er-do-wells, parasites, layabouts and thieves sucking on the breast of the public dole for as long as you can get away with it, indifferent to personal initiative, unwilling to take responsibility, deserving of your wretched crawl across the American earth.

So said Romney to a group of kindred financial spirits at a fundraiser earlier this year. The Republican nominee, in moments of candor he rarely approaches when among the American people, offered a frank strategy for achieving the White House in November, a callous zero-sum-game vision of America that — now revealed — almost certainly completes the five-spiral crash of the most panoramically inept presidential campaign of the modern American political era.

(We can thank Mother Jones, as well as an unidentified netizen, for bringing it to light on Monday, on its Web site and elsewhere. The full story and accompanying videos, written and organized respectively by the magazine's Washington bureau chief, David Corn, may well be the political scoop of the year. Read it at Mother Jones.)

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Romney must have felt right at home there in Boca Raton, Fla., the evening of May 17, attending a private, $50,000-a-plate fundraiser dinner at the home of Marc Leder, private equity manager and co-founder of Sun Capital Partners, an $8 billion investment firm with offices in Boca and eight other locations around the world.

Millionaires and multimillionaires were everywhere. These were Mitt’s kind of people, the ones who sided with Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and who cried when Ebenezer Scrooge went soft at the end of “A Christmas Carol.” And so the candidate no doubt felt comfortable letting his hair down, speaking at length about his apparently real feelings for the vast unwashed electorate he presumed to lead in January 2013.

Romney went on at length on various topics, from excoriating President Obama on handling of the Iraq war to treating Obama with rhetorical kid gloves. He lets a little something slip about the business of his advisors and consultants, and reveals his penchant for secrecy:

“I have a very good team of extraordinarily experienced, highly successful consultants, a couple of people in particular who have done races around the world,” he said. “I didn't realize it. These guys in the U.S. — the Karl Rove equivalents — they do races all over the world: in Armenia, in Africa, in Israel. I mean, they worked for Bibi Netanyahu in his race. So they do these races and they see which ads work, and which processes work best, and we have ideas about what we do over the course of the campaign. I'd tell them to you, but I'd have to shoot you.”

But at one point in the proceedings, feeling his oats, Romney answered a strategic question from someone in the audience: How can he win in November?

Romney’s reply: “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. What I have to do is convince the 5 to 10 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 ...”

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WHEN THE video was released — Corn said on MSNBC on Monday that more would go up that night on the Mother Jones site, and more would come in the coming days — the firestorm was immediate and relentless.

From Corn’s story: “Here was Romney raw and unplugged — sort of unscripted. With this crowd of fellow millionaires, he apparently felt free to utter what he really believes and would never dare say out in the open. He displayed a high degree of disgust for nearly half of his fellow citizens, lumping all Obama voters into a mass of shiftless moochers who don't contribute much, if anything, to society, and he indicated that he viewed the election as a battle between strivers (such as himself and the donors before him) and parasitic free-riders who lack character, fortitude, and initiative.”

In a statement, Jim Messina, Obama campaign manager said: “It’s hard to serve as president for all Americans when you’ve disdainfully written off half the nation.”

Josh Barro of Bloomberg agreed, writing emphatically that the Boca Raton videos’ release “has killed Mitt Romney's campaign for president.”

Joan Walsh of Salon.com weighed in at MSNBC, with an acid distillation of what was said: “He is writing off … about half of our country with utter contempt … he’s talking about them as parasites and moochers and … he is talking about a large segment of the Republican base. Like it or not, there are a lot of white people, older white people, in that category as well ...

“It’s contempt for everybody. It’s equal opportunity contempt, and it’s hugely damaging.”

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The Romney campaign, no doubt weary from the whiplash of recent weeks, responded with a ritual defense.

Gail Gitcho, communications director, wrote: “Mitt Romney wants to help all Americans struggling in the Obama economy. As the governor has made clear all year, he is concerned about the growing number of people who are dependent on the federal government, including the record number of people who are on food stamps, nearly one in six Americans in poverty, and the 23 million Americans who are struggling to find work. Mitt Romney's plan creates 12 million new jobs in four years, grows the economy and moves Americans off of government dependency and into jobs.”

Nowhere, of course, in Gitcho’s statement is there a denial of what was said in Boca Raton. Nor could there be. Romney’s plainly visible in the video. There’s no walking this back. This was no accident. He didn’t have too much wine at dinner; since he’s Mormon, we know he doesn’t drink. What’s revealed on the Mother Jones videos isn’t a spasm of hyperbole or politician’s Tourette’s; what’s revealed is a core conviction expressed in a reasoned, thoroughly articulated view of an America that would be better off if 47 percent of its people just ... went away.

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BY THIS EVENING the blowback was so overwhelming, Romney felt the need to explain himself. Again. He did so tonight at a hastily assembled news conference in Costa Mesa, Calif. And there, with no apology, Romney expanded on his earlier comments, doubling down on what he’d said in May in Boca Raton, defending himself in supplementary comments that were about as bad as what he said in the first place.

“It’s not elegantly stated, let me put it that way,” he said. “I’m speaking off the cuff in response to a question.”

But he was resolute about the central point that 47 percent of Americans wouldn’t back his campaign. “I recognize that among those that pay no tax … I’m not likely to be highly successful with the message of lowering taxes,” he said. “That’s not as attractive to those who don’t pay income taxes as it is to those who do. And likewise those who are reliant on government are not as attracted to my message of slimming down the size of government.”

It was the most recent example of what has become an epic fail of a presidential campaign. This On Monday morning, an exhaustive piece in Politico provided a thorough breakdown of the process by which Team Romney has had its own breakdown of message, of strategy and execution — a failure that extends to the shape of the campaign itself. Clint Eastwood isn’t the only fan of Romney campaign improv.

Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei of Politico laid out what could fairly be called a pre-postmortem for the Romney 2012 campaign, highlighting a level and pattern of internal infighting and strife so pervasive it resulted in “an unwieldy campaign structure that, as the joke goes among frustrated Republicans, badly needs a consultant from Bain & Co. to straighten it out.”

Add to this the chafing of senior staff with Stuart Stevens, the free-spirited odd duck of a chief Romney strategist. Now add to that Team Romney’s insistence in pursuing a primary-election strategy (satisfy the base) long after the time came to make a tack toward the center. Result? You’re left with the consummate, high-priced hash that the Romney campaign has become. To compare this level of tone-deaf, insensitive, ham-fisted organization to the Keystone Kops is to do a rhetorical disservice to the Keystone Kops.

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BUT A FISH stinks from the head down. This is more than just an organizational problem. ““Stevens is hardly to blame for what many conservatives consider a campaign that is specifics-free and lame,” Politico reports. “That blame goes straight to the man running his own campaign: Romney himself, according to a number of people in and out of the campaign.”

With his repeated willingness to dig in his heels on a number of positions, despite the facts available to refute them, Romney essentially set a trap for himself. With the Boca Raton videos, the trap’s finally sprung. Where he least expected it.

The Mother Jones’ videos’ release only pours more fresh cement around the candidate’s ankles on matters of core identity, on issues that reflect his north star of a political philosophy — his path to victory, outlined for true believers in a very believable, quite elegantly stated fashion.

There was no wiggle room in Boca Raton. What’s on the videos was — is — the real Mitt Romney.

Image credits: Romney: screen grab from pool news conference feed. Mother Jones logo: © 2012 Mother Jones. Stevens: AP via Politico.

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