Conservatives divided on how Romney should speak to ‘47%’


“Stupid and arrogant,” said one about Mitt Romney’s comments about the “47%.” “The worst presidential-candidate gaffe since Gerald Ford,” said another. A third allowed that it revealed a politician who “really doesn’t know much about the country he inhabits.”

Those were the comments, not of Democrats, but of right-of-center pundits reacting to the Republican presidential nominee’s claim that nearly half of Americans prefer to be “victims” who are dependent on the government.

But the thoughts of William Kristol, David Frum and David Brooks represent a moderate strand of the conservative spectrum. Others — including radio titan Rush Limbaugh — argued that the struggling Romney should fully embrace his earlier comments and the notion that the U.S. needs to do more to support the creator class, rather than the taker class.


In his news conference Monday evening following the release of the video by the website for Mother Jones magazine, Romney seemed to be hewing closer to the second course — with no apology for saying that those who support President Obama are the 47% “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

PHOTOS: Mitt Romney on the campaign trail

New York Times columnist Brooks and Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, suggested that Romney’s comments to a group of wealthy donors in Florida last May showed him to be particularly out of touch, because many of the 47% who do not pay federal income taxes are retirees and others who paid federal payroll levees and other taxes. Many are Republicans.

“This comment suggests a few things,” Brooks wrote. “First, it suggests that he really doesn’t know much about the country he inhabits. Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the V.A.? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on Social Security or Medicare?”

Brooks also repudiated the Republican nominee for not knowing much about “American culture,” with his suggestion that citizens are childlike and craving of the support of the state. “America remains one of the hardest working nations on Earth,” Brooks asserted.

Frum called the remarks “the worst presidential candidate gaffe since Gerald Ford announced in 1976 that ‘there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.’ ” Frum added: “More than one-fifth of Romney’s moocher 47% are elderly: people who pay no income taxes because their income takes the form of Social Security —- many of those people are Republican voters (even if they don’t understand “dependency” to apply to them).”

Wrote Frum: “Irreparable? To Romney’s image, yes; to his election chances ... we’ll see.”

PHOTOS: Obama on the campaign trail

Writing in the Weekly Standard online, Kristol said: “It remains important for the country that Romney wins in November (unless he chooses to step down and we get the Ryan-Rubio ticket we deserve!). But that shouldn’t blind us to the fact that Romney’s comments, like those of Obama four years ago, are stupid and arrogant.” (Kristol referred to Obama’s comment — while being recorded at a San Francisco fundraiser in 2008 — that poor, small-town voters sometimes get “bitter, and they cling to guns or religion, or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them .… ”)

Those urging Romney to embrace his remarks seemed to echo the author/philosopher Ayn Rand’s notions of society made up of makers and takers — and that the idea that the government should protect the admirable former from the onerous latter.

“The more fully Romney owns these comments the less the press can report them as a ‘gaffe,’ ” wrote Daniel Foster, editor of the National Review. “Romney is now in a position that he has to bring the fight to Obama on the entitlement state.”

Limbaugh, speaking to his large radio audience, said the Romney comments presented a “golden opportunity.” While the commentator said he did not think “all 47% are made up of people who are dependent” he felt too many had been allowed to settle for less than their best.

“This could be the opportunity for Romney and for that campaign to finally take the gloves off and take the fear off and just start explaining conservatism,” Limbaugh said. “Start explaining liberty to people and what it means, and explain that they don’t have to be in that 47%. There’s no reason for them, for everybody to have essentially given up on their future in this country. There’s no reason for it. This is, to me, such an opportunity to espouse conservatism and to explain to people.”

In Limbaugh’s construction, Romney and other conservatives only want to keep those who receive government services from relying too heavily on them, while Obama enjoys having subservient masses who rely on the public sphere.

“That’s why Romney has to get out there, take this by the horns, turn it into a positive, and go right for those people since they’re now listening,” Limbaugh said. “Especially if they think they’ve been insulted, even better!”

Many conservatives have long waited for such a full-throated discussion of their notion of America threatened by the dependent class. Just last Friday, Christian conservative leader Gary Bauer framed the election in those terms in a speech at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. He said the division would not hurt Romney, but present a path to victory.

“We’re going to vote in a little over 50 days. It’s going to be a close election. There will be a lot of people to vote for the president. There’s a lot of people out now around America who depend on checks from their fellow taxpayers being in the mailbox every day. They will turn out in massive numbers,” said Bauer. “But so will the entrepreneurs, the small businessmen and women. The military families, the soldiers in harm’s way, millions of Americans that want hope again. Millions of Americans who want their children to be able to get out of the house and get their jobs and start their lives.

“They’re going to vote too,” Bauer said. “And my prediction is that after all the votes are counted, even the dead votes of Democrats in Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland, I predict that we will win. That this national nightmare will be over. And that America will finally be on the road to recovery.”

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