Mitt Romney has claimed his attack on the freeloading 47 percent was not elegantly stated, and Paul Ryan has noted that it was “inarticulate,” but the Romney campaign is sticking with the same basic message: Obama is the handout president.
Major figures on the right want this. Dave Weigel flags some remarkable quotes from Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity urging Romney to double down on the freeloading 47 percent message. Here's O’Reilly:
“What on earth is the controversy? If I’m Governor Romney, I run with this all day long...Romney should be pointing a finger, a finger at President Obama, saying he wants a welfare state, the President does. And he’s well on the way to creating one.”
Hannity hailed Romney’s videotaped remarks as “one of his sharpest critiques yet of President Obama and the entitlement society he enables.” Meanwhile, Mary Matalin said this of Romney’s attack on Obama’s supporters: “There are makers and takers; there are producers and parasites...why should he apologize?”
Does this version of reality really resonate with swing and undecided voters? In the Obama campaign’s view, it doesn’t. Case in point: The Romney campaign’s previous attacks on Obama for gutting the welfare reform bill. The message of that claim, of course, was not that different from Romney’s unplugged message in the freeloading 47 percent video: Obama wants to encourage mass government dependency.
At first, Dems were concerned. Their focus groups persuaded them that swing voters were not inclined to believe this about Obama, but felt that if it were true, it would worry them. This is why Obama advisers pushed back so hard on the claim. And when they did, Dems found that these voters were easily disabused of the notion.
As David Plouffe put it to me recently, referring to the welfare attack and the idea that Obama is deliberately encouraging dependency: “That’s not what voters think about President Obama. There’s a resistance to it. They say, ‘I haven’t heard that; I’m not sure, that doesn’t seem like something Obama would do.’ And then they get reassured, and say, ‘Okay, he’s not doing it.’”
What about Romney’s message about the freeloading 47 percent? A new Gallup poll finds that reaction tilts negative; 36 percent say they are less likely to vote for Romney because of the video; 20 percent say they’re more likely, and 43 percent say it will make no difference. Among independents, 29 percent are less likely, versus only 15 percent who are more likely; 53 percent say it makes no difference. While that 29 percent may be mostly Dem-leaning, that’s a non trivial number in a tight election; meanwhile, the comments resonate in Romney’s favor among only 15 percent of independents.
And yet some leading conservative opinion-makers want him to continue arguing that Obama is deliberately out to foster and expand a culture of dependency. The Romney campaign is doing just that. Do Republican operatives actually believe this will resonate with swing voters’ perceptions of Obama, who continues to poll well on his values and on whether he’ll defend the interests of the middle class? Or is Ed Kilgore right in arguing that the Romney camp has no choice but to double down on this stuff, to keep conservatives inclined to be suspicious of him happy? Maybe this has become a “base” election, as it were, and nothing else.