Romney Waited Too Long to Shake the Etch-A-Sketch: Lessons from the 47%

Romney Waited Too Long to Shake the Etch-A-Sketch: Lessons from the 47%


Distraction politics is at work again.

This time it’s in the form of a secret video tape of Republican nominee Mitt Romney during a private closed door fundraiser. At the $50,000 per person event, the GOP nominee for the White House called Obama supporters government leeches who he’s given up on.

On May 17th event, Romney said:

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.

The inartfully stated comments were in response to an audience question.  Romney clarified his words yesterday during a hastily assembled press conference to explain his “47%” comments. Essentially, his point was that those who do not pay income tax would not likely vote for him given the core of his platform message is about less government. The message is understandable enough, but only if it was not shrouded in language which solidifies the perception many have of him as being aloof, and having complete disdain for the working class or anyone who has ever needed assistance from the government.

As an article in  The Atlantic summarized yesterday, that 47% when broken down across state lines shows that many who do not pay income tax reside in traditional Red States that vote overwhelmingly Republican during most presidential cycles:  Texas, Mississippi, Idaho and Alabama. The 47% also includes many members of the U.S. military and military families, disabled veterans who cannot work after getting severely injured protecting and defending the country, students who do not earn much because they are busy getting an education so they can later earn a living and contribute to the economy, and the elderly on fixed income – some of which are already weary of Mitt’s running mate’s plan for Social Security. Too broad and too blanket.  And let’s not forget that 47% also includes major multinational corporations like GE which in 2010 paid 0 US income tax after taking advantage of various tax loopholes and government deduction options.

Put aside how bad Romney’s choice of words come off, his point, that he won’t ever convince certain Obama supporters to vote for him based on his rallying cry for lower taxes, has been buried  pretty deep in spin, outrage, meme’s, Twitter hashtags (like Chris Rock parody account‘s #RomneyEncore) and the like.

But there is a lesson behind this 47% gaffe that can be learned: When vying for the highest office in the land, you must keep your eye on your base but speak to the center, and certainly not disparage a substantial number of those you seek to govern.

The misstatements show that Mitt has taken too long to reset, shake that Etch-a-Sketch and pivot back to the center as political pundits have been predicting he would.

During the primary season, it made sense to appeal to the extreme right of his base and try to position himself strongly against the other strong conservative candidates then vying for the Republican nomination for President. That segment of the Republican base, for the most part, cast blame for much of the financial crisis on excessive government spending, and in particular, spending on entitlement programs that benefit the poor and members of the American public that do not pay income tax – the “takers” as they are being called.

During campaign events, he frequently calls upon a common line about Obama promoting an entitlement society of people who look to the government to provide for all of their needs. But there is a wide variety of other topics on his party platforms that are not discussed, explored or made central during campaign stops. There is a broad menu of topics but he chooses to center his message on the concerns of the anti-big government and anti-welfare crowd. By now, he should know he’s got that market locked.

But, today, he stuck by his remarks from May.

It’s unclear if sticking to placating the extreme right this late in the game is a calculated move but this close to the elections with a few states filling in early ballots in a few days, he’s cutting it pretty close.


  1. There was more to Romney's point than the incredibly stupid idea that "the 47%" who do not pay Federal income taxes won't vote for him. He said it's not his job to be concerned about them. Considering how woefully incorrect was the first part of his assertion — a LOT of that "47%" vote *REPUBLICAN*, especially in the South — the comments reveal his contempt for the middle-class and poor and unfitness for the public office.

    To explain Romney's comments were, "… inartfully stated…", suggests you *agree* with their underlying premise — as if there's an elegant way to say half of American voters are leeches whom you have no intention of addressing. However you began this op-ed by characterizing the coverage of his remarks as a distraction from substantive policy debate. Isn't Romney responsible for creating the distraction?

    Romney's continued pandering to what now passes as the GOP base looks as if he knows many of them don't trust him. His two year courtship of Tea partiers, 'birthers', and other right-wing extremists has effectively undermined his candidacy with independents and likely cost him the election. The only remaining question is when will establishment Republicans bail on him.

    • Thanks for replying, but um…"a LOT of that "47%" vote *REPUBLICAN*" – Isn't that what I stated when I mentioned the RED states in my article? Did you even read the piece.

      "To explain Romney's comments were, "… inartfully stated…", suggests you *agree* with their underlying premise — as if there's an elegant way to say half of American voters are leeches whom you have no intention of addressing"

      Wow! What an asinine leap of logic, Wiliam, even for you! NOOOO….to state they were inartfully stated means he bumbled his point and added extra language which I clearly address in this piece. Did you miss that too?

      Now what I do agree with is the assertion that if you are a beneficiary of government benefit for whatever reason (and for many in this economy, they need it to survive) you would not be voting for a man or party that is vowing to cut said benefits. That is a no brainer.

      As to your last paragraph, it seems that you maybe just read the first and last paragraphs because that is exactly the point of the piece. So maybe you were paying a little bit of attention after all. 🙂

      • I did not criticize you for not mentioning Romney insulted middle-class and poor Republican voters. Had you read my comment for comprehension's sake, you'd know better.

        Romney didn't just flub a talking point. IMO, it wasn't a gaffe. He meant exactly what he said as he's been saying it all along. The man is contemptuous of middle-class and poor people. His words go way beyond 'inartful', which describes the words as awkward but the ideas behind the words as fair if not valid.

        You started off describing this incident as a distraction, as if outing Romney for who he really is isn't pertinent. Again I have to ask, at what point do you hold the candidate himself responsible for creating the sideshow?

        • And where do you read that I did not hold him responsible for the distraction? Where do I say who or what is causing the distraction? You are reading into it what you want to see. But in any event, thanks for commenting as always.

          • The question was hypothetical.

            I asked to have you expand upon your remarks since they're unclear about a) whether you perceive Romney's remarks as having import to the presidential election and its politics and, b) who you're blaming for the "distraction politics" here.