Has Romney blown the election?
Not happy, Mitt ... Mickey Corsi holds a sign as he protests outside the hotel hosting a fundraiser for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Dallas. Photo: AP
Mitt Romney is standing by the declaration he made at a fundraiser that his job was not to care about the 47 per cent of American voters who would not support him and do not pay tax, despite some suggesting he may have already blown the election.
Romney today gave Fox News his first interview since a secret recording of the comments, made to wealth donors at a fundraiser earlier this year, was published.
"I do believe that we should have enough jobs and enough take-home pay such that people have the privilege of higher incomes that allow them to be paying taxes. I think people would like to be paying taxes,” he said.
He did, however, distinguish between military veterans and the elderly and the rest of the 47 per cent, a point he did not make in the original statement.
Immediately after the interview a supportive panel of analysts said his comments were likely to energise Republican voters.
CNN Republican strategist Mary Matalin agreed, declaring, “There are makers and takers, there are producers and parasites.”
She also distinguished between veterans and the elderly and the rest of the “takers.”
But more broadly, even in conservative circles, the leak has been viewed as potentially catastrophic to Romney’s campaign.
“Today Mitt Romney lost the election,” wrote Bloomberg’s Josh Barro shortly after the leak and earlier today Bill Kristol – a prominent conservative analyst who never warmed to Romney – wrote that Romney’s "arrogant and stupid remarks" suggested the candidate “seems to have contempt not just for the Democrats who oppose him, but for tens of millions who intend to vote for him.”
What has shocked so many people was not Romney’s analysis that most of the vote was already locked-in – that has been reported on broadly - but the contempt he appeared to display for them, and his presumption that those who did not pay income tax were the same as those who would vote for Obama.
“[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives," he says during a fundraiser for wealthy donors.
The notion that 47 per cent of Americans do not pay tax has been popular in conservative circles for years, probably since a 2002 Wall Street Journal editorial that referred to the “non-tax paying class” as “lucky duckies”.
That group however includes a lot of Republican supporters, both among the ranks of white men laid off during the recession as well as many veterans and elderly – two groups Romney has since sought to exclude from his original statement.
The statement also plays into the hands of Democrats who have sought to portray Romney as a callous plutocrat since he emerged as the likely candidate earlier this year.
Even if the content of the recording does Romney no harm – which appears unlikely – it has forced his campaign onto the defensive for the second week running.
Last Wednesday Romney was widely criticised for fumbling his response to the attacks on American diplomatic posts and the day before the recording was made public a story in Politico suggested Romney’s campaign was in crisis. It revealed scant preparation for Romney’s convention speech and reported staff lost control of Clint Eastwood, who went on to overshadow Romney’s address by muttering at an empty stool.
And hours before the recording was published the campaign attempted to reboot with a new series of ads focusing on the economic specifics of the Romney plan, ads that were immediately lost in the political noise.
Students of American politics are also enjoying the role in the story played by James Carter IV, grandson of the former president Jimmy Carter, who Republicans have long ridiculed as an ineffectual liberal.
It now appears Carter played a role in having the recording leaked to Mother Jones magazine which eventually broke the story.