The Republican presidential candidate, speaking to donors in May, diverged in two ways from standard GOP rhetoric.
For one thing, he picked on the wrong people: the 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal income tax. That group includes key GOP constituencies, such as seniors and blue-collar families. So most Republicans target a different set of Americans instead — those who get government benefits.
The other problem was that Romney said these people were already a lost cause — to him, to the GOP and to themselves. That contrasts with a key Republican idea: that most people who are dependent on the government want nothing more than not to be.
“Why a lot of conservatives don’t like the Romney comment is that it is reverse Marxism in a way. . . . You’re a maker or a taker, that’s the most important thing about you,” William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, said on Tuesday. He said that the candidate seems to accept that there will be class divisions in the United States and that “Romney’s response is . . . the rich have to defend themselves against everyone else.”
“The right answer,” Kristol said, “is, ‘No, the Republican Party is the party of upward mobility.’ ”
Romney’s remarks in May were secretly videotaped and posted this week on the Web site of the liberal magazine Mother Jones. Since then, Romney has said that the comments were inartful but that he stands by their substance.
“We were of course talking about a campaign and how [President Obama is] going to get close to half the vote, I’m going to get half the vote, approximately, I hope,” he told Fox News’s Neil Cavuto on Tuesday afternoon. “Frankly, we have two very different views of America.”
In May, at a home in Boca Raton, Fla., Romney told the donors that 47 percent of Americans will vote for Obama “no matter what.”
“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,” Romney says in the video. He continues: “These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax . . .
“And so my job is not to worry about those people,” he goes on. “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Before Romney, a number of other Republicans complained about the large fraction of Americans — 46 percent, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center — who pay no federal income taxes. But they generally cast this as a failure of government, not of individuals.
“Any tax code that allows 47 percent of the citizens not to pay . . . you can’t repair it; you can’t fix it; it’s completely broken,” Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), who heads the influential Republican Study Committee, said in April.