That’s the only reason Mitt Romney received a standing ovation at the end of his speech to the NAACP convention in Houston this morning. African Americans are so used to being talked down to or scapegoated by members of the Grand Old Party that when the Republican candidate for president goes to the sitting president’s most loyal constituents and asks for their vote, he is worthy of such graciousness. Still, Romney had to withstand some boos to get there.
Take it from me, you risk your personal dignity when you criticize the nation’s first African American president before an audience of African Americans. So much so that even Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) pleaded with a black audience at a town hall forum on jobs last summer to “unleash us” to criticize President Obama’s economic policies. But that didn’t stop Romney.
There were two instances where Romney was booed. And he deserved it.
Romney vowed to repeal the president’s signature legislative accomplishment, Obamacare. “I will eliminate expensive non-essential programs like Obamacare,” Romney said without bothering to elaborate what he would replace it with. This is nothing new. The former Massachusetts governor, whose health-care plan is the template for Obamacare, has been saying that on the campaign trail for a long time now. But the NAACP audience was audibly against repeal.
Next, Romney was rightly booed for this bit of condescension. “If you want a president who will make things better in the African American community, you are looking at him,” he said. And when he was booed, he ad libbed, “Take a look.” Seriously?! C’mon, man.
The political implications of the Bronx cheers for Romney are mixed. Getting booed is never good. But when you’re booed by a group that everyone knows is not in your corner and you push back, as Romney did, the home crowd (read the Republican base) will rally around and cheer. If that was Romney’s ultimate goal, he might have succeeded. And as a tactical matter for a man still trying to convince his party faithful that he is indeed one of them, I can’t help but respect that.