In an interview with Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly on Wednesday night, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) made light of remarks he made over the weekend — in which he poked fun at a group of poncho-wearing NASCAR fans — by claiming that he has worn a garbage bag as a rainjacket himself.
“Is it worth it for you even to say those things?” host Bill O’Reilly asked Romney in the interview, noting that Democrats have pounced on the remarks as the latest in what they argue is a series of gaffes that reveals Romney is out of touch with most Americans.
“Well you know, it’s hard to imagine all the things they’re going to try and turn into attacks,” Romney responded. “I mean, that’s the first time I’ve heard the one you’ve mentioned. Look, I have worn a garbage bag for rain gear myself. And we’re out there in the rain; the rain was getting us soaked; I didn’t have a rain coat myself. I would have liked one of those. So, you know, it’s just the nature of the process.”
At the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Romney had made two statements that Democrats quickly seized on. He joked to a group of NASCAR fans who were wearing plastic ponchos in the rain, “I like those fancy raincoats you bought — really sprung for the big bucks.”
And he also told an Associated Press reporter that he doesn’t follow NASCAR “as closely as some of the most ardent fans, but I have some great friends that are NASCAR team owners.”
Romney himself has acknowledged in recent days that some of his wealth-related campaign-trail gaffes have hurt him. But O’Reilly cut him some slack Wednesday night.
“I know you were kidding around and anybody — anybody who knows you knows you were kidding around with the folks,” O’Reilly said. “I mean, I do it all the time. But you know, anything you say can and will be used against you. I have to Mirandize you tonight, governor, in front of the nation, okay? You have the right to remain silent.”
“Yeah, yeah, exactly,” Romney said with a laugh.
O’Reilly also asked Romney to explain a little more about the inheritance he received when his father, George Romney, passed away in 1995.
Romney had said in a presidential debate last month that he didn’t inherit any money from his parents. But O’Reilly noted Thursday night, “You did inherit money from your father – and then you don’t say what you did with the money. You want to tell the folks what did you with the inheritance you got? Do you want to tell them tonight?”
“Sure, you know, what my mom and dad gave us when they passed away, I gave away,” Romney responded. Later in the interview, he clarified that he had given his inheritance to his alma mater, Brigham Young University, to provide an endowment for the George Romney Institute of Public Management in honor of his father.
“The institute honored George W. Romney posthumously in 1996 with its annual Administrator of the Year award. This event, and the reaction of the Romney Family to the honoring of their husband and father, led the institute to think more about George Romney and his impact. Larry Walters, who directed the Institute of Public Management, proposed that an endowment be established to expand the institute’s established programs into the areas of Romney’s experience: nonprofit management and volunteerism. With enthusiasm from the faculty and university approval, the institute approached the Romney family with a proposal to begin such an endowment.”
“The Romney family provided the initial endowment in 1998, which was to be matched with money raised by the institute. That same year, the institute was renamed the George W. Romney Institute of Public Management.”
Romney explained to O’Reilly that he didn’t mention the endowment in last month’s debate because “you don’t want to look like you’re patting yourself on the back.”
“I do that all the time,” O’Reilly said.