At the NAACP, Mitt Romney got what he came for

Rude is rude, and I’m sorry Mitt Romney got booed at the NAACP convention.


US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addresses the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) annual convention in Houston on July 11, 2012. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

It was a sort of a reverse Sister Souljah moment.

Instead of getting more credit than he deserved for strategically standing up to his own supporters, as Bill Clinton did in 1992 when he took on a hip-hop singer’s comment about killing white people — way out on a limb, right? — Romney is getting more credit than he deserves for strategically standing up to voters who weren’t going to pick him anyway.

Was he hoping to be booed, as Nancy Pelosi has suggested? Well, Romney himself told Neil Cavuto of Fox News that he’d fully expected the reaction he got. He can’t have been innocent of the fact that the term ‘Obamacare’ is a provocation to many Democrats. Or unaware that describing the president as someone who “has not, will not, cannot” create jobs went beyond just saying the rivals disagree. The post-boo brouhaha has been great for Romney. And given that the man is no fool, I vote that those dots don’t need much connecting.

The former Massachusetts governor didn’t go to the NAACP expecting to win votes. In fact, his true audience wasn’t the one in Houston, but the one in Montana, at a fund-raiser later the same day, where he bragged about giving his NAACP hosts heck:

“When I mentioned I am going to get rid of ‘Obamacare,’ they weren’t happy. I didn’t get the same response” as here. That’s OK; I want people to know what I stand for and if I don’t stand for what they want, go vote for someone else, that’s just fine. But I hope people understand this: Your friends who like ‘Obamacare,’ you remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government, tell them to go vote for the other guy — more free stuff. But don’t forget, nothing is really free.”

That he’s trumpeting to donors how he’s just disabused black voters of thinking they were gonna get “more free stuff” is indeed a bold move — boldly ugly, that is. Somewhere, Newt “Give Those Kids a Mop” Gingrich is thinking he and old Mitt have more in common than he knew.

The reaction from the right? An outpouring of praise for Romney’s courage and consistency – not exactly perceived strengths up until now.


Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at the NAACP annual convention, Wednesday, July 11, 2012, in Houston, Texas. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Is that a big deal? With a quarter of likely voters saying they might still reconsider, you bet it is. Almost six in 10 Romney voters say they aren’t so much voting for him as against Obama. Three in four Obama voters, meanwhile, are voting for the president rather than against Romney.

All of which does not quite add up to the vast enthusiasm gap Obama held over McCain in ’08, but it’s very much in line with the difference between Bush and Kerry voters in ’04. And I heard a lot of enthusiasm out there after Romney got himself booed, didn’t you?

(He also received a less remarked upon standing ovation from the group, after speaking movingly about the civil rights efforts of his father, Michigan Gov. George Romney.)

In talking with friends and fellow ‘She the People’ writers today, I have to say there was a racial divide in the reactions, with black friends emphasizing that they felt the boos were more than justified:

“I prefer civility any chance we can get it in the public square,’’ said STP writer Judith Howard Ellis. “But Romney was patronizing. A candidate should persuade. One can argue that it took guts to be there -- but it would have taken more guts to speak to the NAACP as peer voters. Romney sounded like the folks in the Hamptons.”

“He used the language of disrespect,’’ agreed Mary C. Curtis. “His speech wasn’t outreach.”

He deserved to be booed, a third African American friend said. I don’t disagree, but did he also deserve the ‘boo bump’ the NAACP may have just handed him? A line from Clint Eastwood — and the late, lamented HBO series “The Wire,” comes to mind: “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”


Melinda Henneberger has been writing about politics and culture for the Washington Post since 2011.

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