The Washington Post

Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” mea culpa, explained

Less than 24 hours after scoring a clear victory in the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney went into full apology mode regarding his secretly-taped comments at a fundraiser regarding the "47 percent".

In an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News Channel Thursday night, Romney said his remarks were "just completely wrong" -- a major reversal from his initial reaction in which he said that the comments were not "elegantly stated" and were spoken "off the cuff" but didn't come anywhere close to disavowing them.

Why did Romney discuss an event that has clearly hurt his campaign badly when President Obama himself didn't mention it one time during Wednesday night's debate?

It's clear that the answer Romney gave to Hannity on the "47 percent" comment was the one he was prepared to give if/when Obama brought it up during the debate. (And, yes, we remain totally baffled as to why Obama didn't ever mention "47 percent" or Bain Capital during the debate.)

Since Obama didn't ask about it, Romney needed a way to get on record with a full mea culpa before next Thursday's vice presidential debate and the following week's second presidential debate.  That, the Romney campaign hopes, will allow their candidate (and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan) to dismiss the "47 percent" attacks as old news that they have dealt with and apologized for.

And, by not attacking Romney on "47 percent" in the debate, Obama did let the Republican nominee put the apology out in a friendly environment in which he was entirely unchallenged as to why he said it and what he really meant.

Of course, the Obama team isn't likely to let that be the final word on the issue.  Expect Vice President Joe Biden and the president to push the Republican ticket on the 
"47 percent" comments by insinuating (or insisting) that they are a window into how Mitt Romney really thinks -- and, therefore, not something that can be dismissed with a simple "oopsie".

The fight over "47 percent" isn't over. But Romney made a strategic gambit last night aimed at putting it in his rear view mirror on Thursday night.  Now the question is how effectively Biden and Obama can re-vivify the issue in the coming debates.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.

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