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Romney in denial over infamous ’47 percent’ video

REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Mitt Romney insists that all he meant was that each party has its base, and the 47 percent represents the group of voters who make up Obama's base.

Among the worst blows to the Mitt Romney 2012 presidential campaign was the release of the infamous “47 percent” video, secretly recorded at a fatcat fundraiser, in which Romney disparaged 47 percent of the electorate as freeloaders who would vote for President Obama no matter what because there is no way to persuade those voters to take responsibility for their own lives.

Rather astonishingly, Romney is still trying to defend the remark, and to spin what he said by changing it after the fact.

Given the totality of his life story, it’s hard to exactly feel sorry for Romney. But there is something pitiful, telling and human about this spirit of denial. Romney came fairly close to being elected president. He put everything he had into the exhausting, frustrating, often ridiculous process. He lost. The 47 percent remark was perhaps among the top 10 reasons.

Think how much healthier it would be, for him and even a little bit for our debased political culture, if he would own up to the remark, admit that it was a terrible blunder, apologize for it, and only then try to clarify what he was trying to say and what he meant.

The remark

To review: At a closed door, presumably off-the-record, $50,000-a-plate fundraiser in Florida in May, Romney was asked from the audience how he could convince Americans, who have been told by Obama that the government will take care of them, that they need to take care of themselves. It was Romney who described this group as 47 percent of the electorate (apparently based on the portion of Americans who pay no federal income tax, and that statistic is roughly accurate) and as people:

who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that’s an entitlement…[M]y job is not to worry about those people—I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

He also said: “My job is not to worry about those people” because the 47 percent are going to vote for Obama no matter what Romney does.

Collision 2012The speech was secretly taped by a bartender working the event, leaked to Mother Jones magazine, and published on Sept. 17, 2012, doing great damage to Romney’s chances. Full transcript, with video, are here.

Now comes Dan Balz of the Washington Post, in a new book about the campaign, who got the first post-election interview with Romney about what went wrong. After Romney acknowledged to Balz that he had had a “terrible September,” Balz pressed him to talk about the “47 percent” remark.

Romney insisted that all he meant was that each party has its base, and the 47 percent represents the group of voters who make up Obama’s base. His job was not to worry about those people because nothing he could say would win their votes and his job was to seek support from those relatively few persuadable voters in the middle. He summarized his statement to Balz thus:

They’ve got a bloc of voters, we’ve got a bloc of voters, I’ve got to get the ones in the middle.

That would be somewhat reasonable, if it was what Romney had said. And Romney seems to have convinced himself that that was what he said.

When Balz pushed back, saying, “But when you said there are 47 percent who won’t take personal responsibility — ” Romney interrupted him. “Actually, I didn’t say that. . . That’s how it began to be perceived, and so I had to ultimately respond to the perception, because perception is reality.”

In fact, Balz’s summary is almost an exact quote from Romney’s remarks. Romney brought notes on an iPad to the interview, and scanning those notes he claimed that what he had said was:

I’m saying 47 percent of the people don’t pay taxes and therefore they don’t warm to our tax message. But the people who are voting for the president, my job isn’t to try and get them. My job is to get the people in the middle. And I go on and say that. Take a look. Look at the full quote. But I realized, look, perception is reality. The perception is I’m saying I don’t care about 47 percent of the people or something of that nature, and that’s simply wrong.

Balz isn’t Romney’s therapist. I don’t know how many times he may have pushed back at Romney to acknowledge that the full, accurate quote includes all those negative descriptions of the 47 percent as freeloaders. Apparently it wouldn’t matter. Romney’s position is that he didn’t say them.

Some facts

A couple of factual points. It’s true that almost 47 percent of the population (although not necessarily of the electorate) pay no federal income taxes. It’s also true that at some point in a race, each party has locked up 40-some percent of the vote. But these groups are not the same groups. For example, a very big chunk of the 47 percent who pay no income taxes are retirees. Republicans do quite well among older voters. Romney’s effort to convince Balz (and perhaps himself) that the two 47 percents (the group that are committed Democrats and the group that pay no income taxes) are interchangeable is just built on sand.

Romney will never run for office again, but apparently he can’t stop spinning, spinning even himself. I sometimes fear that we are so used to being spun that we don’t mind it any more, that we give no points for candor.

I don’t hate Mitt Romney. On this score, I feel a little sorry for him. How much healthier would it have been, for him and for us, if he had told Balz something like this:

That 47 percent remark was a complete disaster for me, but I deserved the damage it cost me. I’m there in a supposedly off-the-record event with a group of wealthy Republicans and I describe ordinary poor people as if they are freeloaders. Of course that makes me look like someone who has no sympathy for the struggles of ordinary people. Of course I wish I hadn’t said it. It doesn’t reflect my real feelings, but I can’t really expect everyone to believe that now. You get caught up in a campaign, it’s often tempting to tell each group what you think they want to hear. In this case, I was responding to a question that practically told me what the guy wanted to hear. And I blew it. And I take responsibility for it. And I’m sorry.

Comments (30)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/20/2013 - 11:04 am.

    You mean that Romney lies?

    To himself?
    The horror!

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/20/2013 - 11:14 am.

    Erik, you don’t get it.

    He said exactly what he meant, and what he (and many in his party) believes. There’s nothing to clarify or apologize for. His dilemma only arises from the fact that his beliefs are not shared by the majority of Americans and turned out to be a political liability.

    The other problem is that the man is simply not that bright. He’s not going to change his beliefs and he can’t figure out how to dodge the political liability of his actions, so he twists in the wind. He knows people don’t like what he said but he can’t really figure out why, I mean after all it’s the “truth” isn’t it? Of course he can’t reconcile this in any meaningful way. As far as he’s concerned American just couldn’t handle the truth.

    If you’re expecting this guy to act like he’s made a connection of some kind with something other than his own personal reality… well… good luck. Romney is a just another of America’s mediocre private sector executives. You may as well wait patiently for a dog to play a violin.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 08/20/2013 - 11:33 am.

    Video, schmideo

    Would that Mr. Romney, in an uncharacteristic moment of candor, admitted much as Eric has suggested. I won’t hold my breath. Too bad, because my personal opinion is that the remark wasn’t intended in quite the draconian spirit with which it’s generally been characterized, nor was it as innocent as Mr. Romney and his apologists would like us believe.

    The contempt with which the wealthy and the right wing hold those who can’t match their incomes and don’t subscribe to their belief system is very nearly palpable, and that was certainly the case during the 2012 election. Much of that animus has remained, especially on the side of the losers, who continue to speak and behave as if the majority of Americans somehow made mistakes in marking their ballots, and in the process elected someone who, they’d like us to believe, isn’t even a citizen. I won’t be surprised to see that same contempt make itself known in the next gubernatorial election here, nor in various congressional and state legislative races.

    True believers, like zealots everywhere on the planet, don’t change their views to fit the facts and reality in front of them. Instead they practice denial and obfuscation, techniques which politicians of every stripe tend to learn all too well.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/20/2013 - 12:21 pm.

    Romney proved his point

    “My job is not to worry about those people” because the 47 percent are going to vote for Obama no matter what Romney does”

    That’s true. He lost the election because of that, plus the 4-5 million conservative white people he was counting on but who never showed up at the polls.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/21/2013 - 07:51 am.

      Yes, there was a large percentage of people who would have never voted for Romney, whatever he did or said.

      There is also a much smaller percentage of people who work the system to try to get as much, for free, as they can from the government.

      Romney’s error is conflating the two categories and placing them all in the Democratic party (remember Venn diagrams?)

      Because, as we all know, there are a lot of Republicans at the public trough. And Romney wasn’t universally liked by Republicans.

      And as for the missing “4-5 million conservative white people”, try looking for the “silent majority” (1960’s), “forgotten middle class” (1970’s), “angry white males” ( 1980’s), “soccer moms” (1990’s), and “NASCAR dads” (2000’s). After all, people have also spent decades looking for Sasquatch..

  5. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 08/20/2013 - 12:59 pm.

    Worst part of that quote – those who do depend vote Republican

    The worst part of that quote, as far as I’m concerned, is a lot of people – and I don’t think it’s 47 percent – who rely on government vote Republican because they don’t see themselves as reliant on government.

    I have an ex-girlfriend who married a guy from Louisiana and lives there. Her husband is on government disability because of obesity-caused diabetes, she’s on extended unemployment, gets some minor work as a post office contract delivery person and constantly whines about “all the lazy do-nothings” who are on the public dole.

    I have a stepmother-in-law who complains that if she would have controlled her own Social Security she’d be worth more. Considering she’s 93, and has collected since she was 65, that’s more than little doubtful.

    A friend has two children who are autistic and constantly complains that the school isn’t doing enough for them. But he opposes all school bond referendums because he doesn’t see how it benefits his own children.

    All of them voted for Romney.

    I don’t begrudge them getting some extra help from the government, but it would be nice if they weren’t living in total denial and blaming everyone else for the ills of the country.

  6. Submitted by Steve Hoffman on 08/20/2013 - 01:09 pm.


    I believe what Romney is telling us is that his “47%” speech hasn’t been televised LATELY, and therefore it didn’t really happy, we’re just remembering it wrong. The GOP is still not up to speed on the reality of video and audio recordings that WILL come back on them no matter how vigorously they deny having said/done anything of the sort.

  7. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 08/20/2013 - 01:43 pm.

    Romney can spin all he wants, we know what he did say

    Politicians are many times continuing fools because they can’t admit they spoke in error. I think the reason they can’t admit they made an error is because what they said is exactly what they meant. In the digital age many politicians get caught saying something, get challenged about it, and deny it like what they said could never be recovered again so it is safe to deny it. In reality, moments later, it is available for all to hear again. Romney never really connected with a large segment of the electorate because no matter how hard they tried to push him in that direction being personable just isn’t his nature . When you are one of the haves it is hard to connect with the have-not’s.

  8. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 08/20/2013 - 02:34 pm.

    I Don’t Believe Romney Could Ever Say What You Wish

    Because of two things,…

    1 – to do so would be to admit that he might have been wrong or mistaken about something, which I seriously doubt he is capable of EVER doing.

    2 – he can’t say “It doesn’t reflect my real feelings,” because that would be a bald faced lie. The 47% statement DOES reflect his true feelings. He’s NOT sorry for saying it. He’s only sorry it became public knowledge. He’s only sorry because he got caught.

    If Romney had been elected president it would rapidly have become only too clear that, indeed, he was not in the LEAST bit concerned for anything but the top 1%,…

    and, of course, how to sufficiently mask that reality with spin massive enough to get re-elected.

    • Submitted by Diane Nelson on 08/20/2013 - 07:49 pm.

      He’s probably just as relieved

      as we are that he didn’t get elected president, cause we’ve since learned didn’t want the job anyway.

      Or did his son not say that either?

  9. Submitted by Lora Jones on 08/20/2013 - 03:04 pm.

    Romney’s failure to accept personal responsibility

    is, unfortunately, something we hear much too much from the party that claims to value just that.

  10. Submitted by jody rooney on 08/20/2013 - 03:53 pm.

    Frankly I believe him, although I wouldn’t have voted for him

    There is not necessarily a connection between wealth and lack of compassion for the plight of those less fortunate. There is probably a lack of a reality check. My neighbor was attributing the number of homeless youth to the fact that they could “live large” on the welfare system. She had no idea that GA is about $210 for a single person and food assistance if it is still there is $150.

    Sure the get some medical but how irrelevant is that to a 20 year old, and there isn’t necessarily enough housing to go around.

    She considers herself compassionate and would absolutely help even strangers in need if she ran into them. But she is unlikely to run into them. And that’s Romney’s issue too.

    Like Mr. Powers above I don’t think that a lot of the people don’t make the connection between benefits they receive and taxes, or lack of services and taxes. Mr. Romney doesn’t necessarily connect his tax breaks with subsidies or freeloading.

  11. Submitted by Joe Musich on 08/20/2013 - 10:43 pm.

    I wonder what would have happened if…..

    Rommney had started from below the line as as so many in this country do ? This BS about “earned” it is a broken record. Time for do a you tube search for the wonderful 3 stooges short Hoi Plloi :

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/21/2013 - 09:07 am.

      The Romneys

      DID start from ‘below the line’:

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/21/2013 - 09:28 am.

      Hoi polloi

      You will never convince someone like Mitt Romney that he owes much, if not all, of what he has to his unusual good fortune of birth. Didn’t Ann Romney say that they struggled when they were first married? After all, Mitt had to cash in some of his GM stock to pay tuition!

  12. Submitted by Beth Hawkins on 08/20/2013 - 11:37 pm.

    Great piece, Eric

    Nicely done, sir.

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/21/2013 - 09:37 am.

    He’s not in denial, he’s just in a bind

    Eric’s council is based on the premise that Romney misspoke. The fact is that Romney was being candid, he wasn’t just playing to the crowd.

    I think the reason this became such a problem for Romney is that throughout his candidacy he had a basic trust problem. Conservatives and liberals alike weren’t sure who the real Romnney was. Although the economics of his 47% comment were wrong (the wealthy actually rely on the government no less than the poor) it was context that triggered such a harsh reaction.

    Romney was being candid, but he would never have made those comments in a debate, or in an interview before a national audience. This meant when he wasn’t talking to supporters, he was being duplicitous, and THAT rather than the actual content of his remark is what he can’t get past.

    This kind of duplicity has become a feature of Republican politics in the last 20 years. Increasingly Republicans have relied on code talk that speaks to their “base” but misleads everyone else. This means you can only find moments of candor behind closed doors with select audiences. I’m not saying Democrats are perfectly honest, but the bait-n-switch nature of republican campaigns is far more striking, remember the republican promise to focus on jobs like a laser? The base knew that this meant further cuts in government spending, everyone else thought this meant they’d actually do something to create jobs. And so it goes.

    Most people concluded, and I think rightly so, that Romney’s 47% speech was the “real” Romney. Conservatives had a problem with it because he wasn’t talking about abortion or gay marriage, he talked about the economy. Liberals had a problem with it because it smacked of class prejudice. But the real problem was that it wasn’t what he was saying in public, in public he claimed that he deserved everyone’s vote.

  14. Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 08/21/2013 - 10:42 am.

    Governor Romney has it backwards

    In 2012, the Tax Foundation looked at this question and calculated, by state, the share of individual filers who effectively paid no federal income taxes in 2010.

    If one takes that data and compares it to the 2012 election results, one finds a positive correlation between Romney’s percentage vote margin in a state and the percentage of individual filers in a state who effectively paid no federal income taxes. 12 of the top 14 went Romney. 11 of the bottom 14 went Obama. The three Romney states in the bottom 14 are oil states: Alaska, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

    I twice attempted to post links to the source data and a correlation chart I made of it, but somehow that’s not getting past MinnPost’s moderation mechanism.

  15. Submitted by David Weight on 08/21/2013 - 04:24 pm.

    Full Quote

    If you listen to the full video, I believe you will get a better understanding of what Mr Romney meant, and his mistake during this discussion. He does mix up those not paying taxes, with those that are going to vote for the President “no matter what”. Those in the 2nd group also include many educated, financially well-off liberals. It also includes many with “special interests” that will also vote for the party that supports that special interest, regardless of the other critical issues at hand.

    From a political point of view, a candidate has to realize (and Romney does), that he/she will not be able to sway that group of voters–the Obama base, just as Obama was not going to sway the Romney base. It is really as Romney says at the very end of the audio clip: it is the 5-10% of the undecided or independent voters that the winner will need to appeal to and win. The beginning of the audio and end of the audio really show this. Romney just gets mixed up in the middle.

    Unfortunately, I believe that Romney was the most qualified candidate to get this country out of the economic problems that we are in, based on his previous financial successes, and that he would have done the best job or the country. Instead, we continue to have an administration that increases our debt, and appears to have very little financial savvy, (or possibly, doesn’t really want to improve our economic situation.) Unfortunately, Romney was not as good a public speaker as Obama, and didn’t have as endearing personality, which seem to be more and more important in a country where style trumps substance.

    • Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 08/21/2013 - 05:57 pm.

      So the debt wouldn’t be increasing under Romney?

      Based on what evidence exactly? The last time the debt declined under a Republican was 56 years ago, under Eisenhower, when the top marginal income tax rate was 91%.

      To think the debt could be declining under any president of any party at this point in time relative to the last recession? Not rationally conceivable.

      “and appears to have very little financial savvy, (or possibly, doesn’t really want to improve our economic situation.)”

      Under Obama…

      S&P +105%
      Corporate profits +99%
      Inflation at 2%
      Unemployment rate down 0.4 percentage points, 2.6 off recessionary peak
      Inflation-adjusted per capita disposable income +4%
      Private sector employment +3.1 million
      Government employment -731,000
      Inflation-adjusted per capita deficit -72%
      Inflation-adjusted gasoline in July 2013 -18% from July 2008

      By contrast, the US lost 665,000 private sector jobs and gained 1.7 million government jobs under his predecessor. The stock markets tanked, gasoline quadrupled, and an inherited surplus ended with a $1.4 trillion deficit. Mr. Romney gave no indication that his policies would differ from Mr. Obama’s predecessor.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/22/2013 - 08:04 am.

      ….I believe that Romney was the most qualified candidate to get this country out of the economic problems that we are in, based on his previous financial successes…

      Hmm, I always thought Romney made his money by being the “first one out of the door” in spotting economic trends and directions that made up the decline of the fortunes of Americans.. His money was made exactly on the basis of the economic problems of the country was experiencing and dismantling the jobs, wages, benefits and future of the 99% Americans to enrich the 1%.

      Do you ever wonder why he was so adamant about not disclosing his tax returns for those few years? It was because it would have laid out exactly how much money he made in blackmailing the US government to bail out Delphi and then subsequently closing down Delphi in the US and moving all production out of the country.

      Nothing illegal, but certainly not an answer to America’s economic problems.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/22/2013 - 08:39 am.


      Not to rerun the election but Romney simply had no plan. Like a typical American executive he was going to assume some else would solve the problems and do his job. Romney’s BIG idea was to get out of the way so other people could do his job.

      It always surprised me that so many people assumed Romney was the best economics guy simply because he’s wealthy. Executives like Romney engineered the greatest recession in 60 years. These guys made their money during a series of engineered bubbles, it was duplicity not economic acumen. When these bubbles burst the majority of investors lost almost everything, and you want guys like Romney to do for America what they did for their investors?

      The government is not a business running for a profit, it’s function is not to make money. Nations are not corporations for soooooooooo many reasons and anyone who doesn’t get that will do serious damage if they get their hands on the levers of the economy. Remember, 50% of businesses fail, and these guys made their money by creating bubbles, not by growing the economy. In fact in a very basic way they’ve been shrinking the economy in the sense that the top 5% have captured 90% of the growth in the last two decades or so. These corporate executives aren’t economists, they don’t understand economics, the really well paid ones typically don’t even understand the business their running, and they’re usually nowhere near as bright as they think they are. We dodged a bullet by getting a second term with Obama.

    • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 08/22/2013 - 09:58 am.


      President Obama has delivered substantial deficit reduction. In FY09, which was a combination of Bush/Obama, the deficit was $1.413 trillion. This FY, the deficit is projected to be $744 billion.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/22/2013 - 12:20 pm.

      The Quote

      Regardless of what Romney meant, he said “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. These are people who pay no income tax.” He also said that he would “never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

      Listening to the full video reveals a man who has the contempt the very wealthy often have for those beneath them. His contempt came through in many other ways, like his patronizing “Corporations are people, my friend.” No, contempt is not an endearing personality trait, especially not when it manifests itself in policy positions deliberately skewed to the wealthy. Those positions, not his poor speaking ability, are what cost him the election.

      “Previous financial success?” Have you ever heard what his father did for a living? How could a person from a background like that not succeed at taking over businesses, firing employees, and presenting an improved spreadsheet to Wall Street?

    • Submitted by Tim Walker on 08/22/2013 - 02:23 pm.

      David,You wrote: “Instead,


      You wrote: “Instead, we continue to have an administration that increases our debt, and appears to have very little financial savvy, (or possibly, doesn’t really want to improve our economic situation.)”

      The fact that you seem to truly believe that a sitting president may actually *not* want to improve the economic situation of our country speaks volumes about your:

      * Gullibility — That you would actually believe such a preposterous thing
      * Grasp of reality — As others have pointed out, President Obama’s policies have improved our economy on several fronts

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 08/22/2013 - 06:38 pm.


      David, increasing the debt was exactly the RIGHT thing to do in this situation. Too often people get stuck on a one note symphony that debt is bad. And in most situations they would be right. But in the case of a recession or depression, going into debt is not only the right thing to do, but it’s necessary.

      I guess a lot of people didn’t take Econ 101, so let me lay out the basics here.

      There are three sectors to the economy:
      1. Consumers
      2. Business
      3. Government

      Now in the Great Recession two of those sectors, consumers and businesses, weren’t buying. Businesses were laying off left and right because people weren’t buying their goods and services. And consumers weren’t buying because they were afraid of being laid off. It’s a perfect downward spiral to oblivion.

      So with two sectors out of the mix, what does that leave? I know this is a toughie because there are so many choices here. That’s right! Government. In order to put people back to work, someone has to buy something first. And that someone was the government, even if it means deficit spending.

      We saw this manifest itself in two main ways: direct government purchases (think shovel ready projects) and consumer programs, such as tax rebates, tax holidays, and cash for clunker programs. That put a lot of money into the hands of a lot of people, who then bought things and put their neighbors back to work. If anything, government spending should have been a lot larger as that would have put far more people back to work far faster. But the Republicans fought that tooth and nail because anything that put people back to work would have made Obama look good and they didn’t want that, even if it meant people suffered.

      Were it not for Obama’s policies and spending, we would have easily slid into the Great Depression #2. Just look at how we got out of the Depression in the 1930s–through the world’s biggest government spending program of all time: WWII.

      • Submitted by Tim Walker on 08/23/2013 - 02:38 pm.

        Well put, Todd.

      • Submitted by Lora Jones on 08/23/2013 - 06:16 pm.

        Yes, very well put

        Though it’s small wonder our republican friends work so hard to forget Econ 101 — it’s the same course, after all, that teaches supply-demand (not supply- duh, what?, um, credit? per Saint Ron) and marginal utility — both of which prove the idiocy of their taxation “policies”

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