Video a major blow to Romney campaign

Wed, Sep 19, 2012, 01:00

MITT ROMNEY’S floundering presidential campaign may not recover from videos posted on the internet over the past two days by Mother Jones magazine.

In a previously undisclosed speech to millionaires at a private fund-raiser in Boca Raton on May 17th, Mr Romney discounted almost half the US population as “dependent upon the 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”.

The 47 per cent of Americans who do not pay federal income tax (in fact 46.4 per cent, according to the Tax Policy Centre) “will vote for the president no matter what”, Mr Romney said.

“So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect . . . My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Mr Romney portrayed the US in the stark dichotomy of “strivers” and “moochers” dear to the late Republican ideologue Ayn Rand and to Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan.

A pre-video New York Times/CBS poll showed 53 per cent of voters believed Mr Romney favoured the rich. On September 13th, he called $250,000 (€192,000) a year – five times the median annual income – a “middle-class” salary. The video reconfirmed Mr Romney was born with a silver foot, as well as a silver spoon, in his mouth.

In a bungled attempt at damage limitation, Mr Romney hastily convened a short press conference at a fund-raiser in Costa Mesa, California, near his Pacific coast home, at 10pm on Monday night.

The candidate said he had spoken “inelegantly”, claimed his frank words to donors were “the same message I give to people” on the campaign trail, and stuck to his contention that people who do not pay income tax will not vote for him.

Mr Romney risked alienating some of his own supporters. “Who are these freeloaders?” conservative columnist David Brooks asked in the New York Times. “Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the veterans’ administration? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on Social Security or Medicare?”

Though 46.4 per cent of Americans do not pay federal income tax because of deductions or exemptions, all but 18.1 per cent pay federal payroll taxes – at a higher rate than the 14 per cent paid by Mr Romney on the sole tax return he has released. More than half of the 18.1 per cent who pay neither tax are senior citizens, a key constituency for Mr Romney.

The reputation of Marc Leder, who held the fateful fund-raiser, may offend Mr Romney’s social conservative supporters. Mr Leder was inspired by a visit to Mr Romney’s firm, Bain, to found his own $8 billion private equity firm, Sun Capital. Twenty-five of Sun Capital’s companies have gone bankrupt since 2008.

The New York Post called Mr Leder “a private equity party boy” and last year recounted he spent $500,000 for the month-long rental of a seafront house in the Hamptons, where he held parties every Friday and Saturday night.

At one party, the Post recounted, “guests cavorted nude in the pool and performed sex acts, scantily dressed Russians danced on platforms and men twirled lit torches to a booming techno beat”.

Mr Romney’s gaffe has been widely compared to a private fund-raiser in San Francisco in 2008, where US president Barack Obama was filmed saying economic travails made working-class Pennsylvanians “cling to their guns and religion”. But Mr Obama advocated reaching out to those disillusioned voters, while Mr Romney disowned his.

Other parts of Mr Romney’s Boca Raton speech were equally revealing. He would turn the economy around with the mere gift of himself, he seemed to say; the solution, c’est moi.

“If it looks like I’m going to win, the markets will be happy . . . If we win on November 6th . . . we’ll see capital come back and we’ll see – without actually doing anything – we’ll actually get a boost in the economy.”

Mr Romney contradicted his own interview with Haaretz newspaper of Israel in July, and his own party’s platform, when he told donors that “the pathway to peace [between Israel and Palestinians] is almost unthinkable to accomplish” and that if elected he would “kick the ball down the field”.

Mr Romney said Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s campaign consultants were now working for him. When a former US secretary of state phoned Mr Romney to say “there’s a prospect for a settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis”, he did not want to know about it. His response was “really?”, but “I didn’t delve into it”.

Mr Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, called the video “shocking” and said it would be difficult for Mr Romney to serve as president when he had “disdainfully written off half the nation”.