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Opinion

Opinion: Mitt ’47%' Romney wants to save the GOP from Donald Trump. That’s rich

Mitt Romney, Donald Trump

In 2012, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was endorsed by Donald Trump. 

(Michael Nelson / European Pressphoto Agency)

A guy who called half the country losers and hoped voters would confuse his extreme wealth (he called it “success”) for presidential adeptness wants his party’s attention.

That man would be Mitt Romney. (What, you thought I was talking about Donald Trump?)

In treating Romney’s call on Thursday for Republicans to reverse course in their march to Trump’s presidential nomination as the sober old guard calling for civility and a return to a kinder, gentler era of conservative politics, we forget how big of a role Romney played in priming his party’s base for Trump. Remember that Romney’s 2012 candidacy, fairly or unfairly, is perhaps best known for the surreptitiously recorded images of him (wrongly) telling campaign donors that the 47% of the country freeloading off the federal government and paying no taxes were in President Obama’s pocket because, hey, they’re poor, and he can’t be expected to “convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

They’re losers. Sound familiar?

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Romney’s comment was no gaffe, a momentary lapse into honesty that deviated from his campaign’s disciplined message. Romney’s inability to relate to less-than-wealthy Americans was a running theme of the 2012 election that hobbled his efforts. Ann Romney callously referred to those calling on her husband to release his tax returns as “you people.” After the election, Romney attributed his defeat to poor and minority voters who received “gifts” from the president in the form of government programs. Even the Republican Party’s 2012 convention retort to Obama -- “we built it” -- was laced with the unspoken message that if you’re not rich, it’s your fault.

Now comes Trump, and the message is now spoken. And it’s not just poor versus rich, loser versus winner, maker versus taker. Recall Romney’s “self-deport” non-solution on illegal immigration, a poorly disguised way of affirming his base’s discomfort with the American electorate’s growing diversity. Trump, who as we all know wants seal off the United States’ southern border and make Mexico pay for it, has no such need to tread lightly.

For his freedom to speak as he wishes, Trump has his Republican forerunners to thank, Romney included. They blew the dog whistle on states’ rights, welfare queens and immigrants, and voters were listening. Now Trump can dispense with the whistle and say all the wrong things about Mexican rapists, David Duke and losers.

So I’ll put my money where it’s safe and bet Romney’s attempt to stop the Trump juggernaut will only strengthen it. Trump’s persona may be crass, but his ideas are no less crass than those that came before him.

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Follow me on Twitter: @PaulMThornton


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