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July 29, 2013 4:27 PM Romney’s Rationalizations

By Ed Kilgore

WaPo is serializing excerpts from the new campaign book by its ace political reporter Dan Balz. In the Sunday edition, we’re treated to tidbits from Balz’s interviews with Mitt Romney.

As someone who thought the ObamneyCare issue would be a huge problem for Mitt in the primaries, I was interested to learn that the candidate himself thought so too, to the point where he nearly didn’t run. But he also seemed to have a keen appreciation of the weakness of the field, which in the end probably mattered more in securing his nomination than anything Romney did or didn’t say or do.

Most of the buzz today, though, is about Romney’s take on the “47 percent video,” which is generally considered an important milestone in the general election campaign, if not (among those believing in the “game change” theory of presidential campaigns) a turning point. David Corn, who of course published the first big media account of the video (on a tip from James Carter IV), has great sport today in dissecting Romney’s rationalizations about his responsibility for the video’s impact. To hear Mitt he was engaging in a bit of dispassionate political analysis explaining the size and nature of the swing vote, when he was pretty clearly making a sweeping moral condemnation (or at minimum a slur) of nearly half the electorate:

Romney had been responding to a rich funder who was griping that too many damn Americans don’t take care of themselves. Romney answered by essentially agreeing with the premise of the question. Ever the spreadsheet guy, he put a number on it: 47 percent. And he threw up his hands and said he could neither win over these Americans as voters or persuade them to be responsible adults. They were lost on both counts.

Beyond that, of course, Romney had spent enough time on the Republican primary campaign trail to know that the claim Democrats had bought lazy non-taxpaying “lucky duckies” with public benefits was a standard and viscerally felt conservative meme. Perhaps he was so used to pandering to that kind of sentiment that he echoed it with no loathing in his heart, but who cares?

The bigger issue, of course, is what role this incident actually played in the presidential outcome, in comparison to “the fundamentals” (e.g., partisan identification and economic trends) and the more general quality of the two campaigns. All we can say for sure is that the “47%” remarks made a campaign already struggling with fundamentals easy prey for the opposition’s superior social media operation, while also assisting the superior Democratic GOTV effort. Those (like me) who don’t buy “game change” theories will readily concede Romney did about as much damage to himself as a presidential general election candidate is capable of self-inflicting. It doesn’t reflect well on the kind of president Romney would have been that he doesn’t seem to get it.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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