Mitt Romney: What 47%?

The Atlantic
Mitt Romney: What 47%?
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Mitt Romney: What 47%?

You likely remember this, but let's just do some quick catching up. On Sept. 17, 2012, Mother Jones released a video, helped by former President Carter's grandson, of a private fundraiser for Mitt Romney. Here's what the GOP presidential nominee 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 that 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, 48—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. And 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 not to worry about those people—I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. 

The remarks turned out to be quite damning. And now, 10 months later, there are new words from Mitt Romney trying to jedi mind trick the old ones all away.

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In a Washington Post excerpt of Dan Balz's upcoming book on the 2012 election, Romney put forward one of his most adamant defenses of the 47 percent comments. Balz's interview with Romney took place in late January, 2013. Here's Romney on what went through his head when he first heard about the video being released:

As I understood it, and as they described it to me, not having heard it, it was saying, 'Look, the Democrats have 47 percent, we've got 45 percent, my job is to get the people in the middle, and I've got to get the people in the middle.'... And I thought, 'Well, that's a reasonable thing.' ... It's not a topic I talk about in public, but there's nothing wrong with it. They've got a bloc of voters, we've got a bloc of voters, I've got to get the ones in the middle. And I thought that that would be how it would be perceived — as a candidate talking about the process of focusing on the people in the middle who can either vote Republican or Democrat. As it turned out, down the road, it became perceived as being something very different.

Calling the idea behind the comments "a reasonable thing" is a bit off from Romney's comments this June, in which he told CNN that he was "very upset" over what he said. The new view of his remarks also pushed aside the idea that those 47 percent weren't just "Democrats," but in Romney's assessment were "dependent upon government ... believe they are victims" and that he'd never be able to "convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives." 

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Balz specifically asked Romney about the "personal responsibility" remark. Mitt Romney said it was fiction:

Actually, I didn't say that.... That's how it began to be perceived, and so I had to ultimately respond to the perception, because perception is reality.

Think of it as a "sorry, I'm not sorry." It's also a fascinating, one-sentence summation of how easy it is for a campaign aparatus to become an impenetrable bubble.

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Romney then presented Balz with his own take on the event. Some of which is here:

In two months, my job is to get the people in the middle. But this was perceived as, 'Oh, he's saying 47 percent of the people he doesn't care about or he's insensitive to or they don't care—they don't take responsibility for their life.' No, no. I'm saying 47 percent of the people don't pay taxes and therefore they don't warm to our tax message. But the people who are voting for the president, my job isn't to try and get them. My job is to get the people in the middle. And I go on and say that. Take a look. Look at the full quote. But I realized, look, perception is reality. The perception is I'm saying I don't care about 47 percent of the people or something of that nature, and that's simply wrong.

This doesn't really mesh with the full quotation above from Mother Jones's video transcript. Mother Jones's David Corn was caught pretty surprised by the new comments. But Romney did realize one thing:

Well, clearly that was a very damaging quote and hurt my campaign effort.

That's a statement you don't need much more context for.

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