The Washington Post

Romney: ‘47 percent’ remarks were ‘completely wrong’

— For weeks, Mitt Romney stood by his now-infamous remarks about “the 47 percent.” Sure, he said, his criticism of nearly half of Americans who don’t pay income taxes was “not elegantly stated,” but he refused to disavow it.

Until this week. In the face of polling showing his comments — relentlessly replayed in Obama campaign advertisements — had taken a toll on his campaign, particularly in battleground Ohio, Romney changed course.

The Republican nominee decided to distance himself from the comments, surreptitiously recorded on a video leaked last month, and had prepared a strong statement to deliver in Wednesday’s debate. The subject never came up during the debate, but Romney got his chance to address his controversial comments in a television interview Thursday night.

“Clearly in a campaign, with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you’re going to say something that doesn’t come out right. In this case, I said something that’s just completely wrong,” Romney told conservative commentator Sean Hannity on Fox News.

Romney added: “My life has shown that I care about 100 percent, and that’s been demonstrated throughout my life. And this whole campaign is about the 100 percent.”

MAD MONEY | Presidential ad spending doubles in swing states

During a fundraiser in May at a supporter’s home in Boca Raton, Fla., Romney told wealthy donors that 47 percent of Americans are government freeloaders who see themselves as “victims,” who can’t be persuaded to take personal responsibility for their lives and who will support President Obama in the election “no matter what.”

“My job is not to worry about those people — I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” Romney said.

On Friday, Romney’s aides dismissed any notion that he made a mea culpa in the interview with Hannity. They insisted that Romney expressed the same sentiment — that what he said came out wrong — that he voiced immediately after the leaked video surfaced Sept. 17.

The Obama campaign pilloried Romney for the apparent about-face, releasing a video Friday titled, “Mitt Romney’s Disdain for the Middle Class: He Said It, He Meant It.”

Privately, Romney’s advisers acknowledged that the comments were causing serious damage to his efforts to win over independent voters.

The former Massachusetts governor initially said he had been speaking as a political pundit, analyzing the electorate and merely explaining that nearly half of the country’s voters were a solid lock for Obama. Still, the remarks pierced the national consciousness in a way that few blunders do and became a defining element of Romney’s candidacy.

And they spawned several weeks of hand-wringing within the GOP, especially among the conservative commentariat, who speculated that the remarks may have been fatal to Romney’s candidacy.

The 47 percent comments have had a shelf life in part because of the Obama campaign’s ads. One spot, showing images of factory workers, veterans and families against audio of Romney making the comments, has a significant footprint in nearly every local television market across each battleground state.

Romney and his advisers knew the comment had to be dealt with, one adviser said, and they wanted to correct it before the biggest audience possible: the first presidential debate.

Part of Romney’s calculation, advisers said, was to try to turn the page by saying that his comments were “wrong.” Now, whenever he is asked about “the 47 percent,” Romney can say something like, “Yes, I was wrong, but let’s get back to the big issues of the campaign.”

As one adviser said, “What he did helps cauterize the wound.”

Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
The New Hampshire primary is Tuesday. Get caught up on the race.
New Hampshire primary: What to expect
New Hampshire will hold a traditional primary just eight days after the Iowa caucuses. Polling in the Granite state has historically been volatile in the final weeks before the primary. After the Iowa caucuses, many New Hampshire voters cement their opinions.
The Post's Ed O'Keefe says ...
Something has clicked for Bush in New Hampshire in the past few days. What has transpired by no means guarantees him a top-tier finish in Tuesday’s Republican primary here, but the crowds turning out to see him are bigger, his delivery on the stump is crisper and some of his key rivals have stumbled. At the least, the developments have mostly silenced talk of a hasty exit and skittish donors.
The feminist appeal may not be working for Clinton
In New Hampshire, Sen. Bernie Sanders is beating Clinton among women by eight percentage points, according to a new CNN-WMUR survey. This represents a big shift from the results last week in the Iowa caucuses, where Clinton won women by 11 points.
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She left the state Sunday to go to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
55% 40%
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.