It has been a fun ride for journalists covering Mitt Romney’s US presidential campaign. They have been treated to a smorgasbord of gaffes from the Republican nominee – about-turns on policy, questionable facts to base his arguments on, ill-received comments such as his response to the killing of the US ambassador to Libya last week or his scepticism over London’s readiness to host the Olympics.
But it is last night’s revelation via video clips posted on liberal magazine Mother Jones’s website of Romney’s inflammatory comments about nearly half the electorate that is arguably turning out to be his most fatal own-goal. As Romney’s team scrabble with damage control, many are asking, exactly who are these 47 per cent, how reliant are they really on government largesse, and what – if any – magic can Romney and his team weave to get the campaign back on track?
In the FT:
- FT Washington correspondent Stephanie Kirchgaessner and DC bureau chief Richard McGregor report on the fallout of the video, how Romney and his campaign team are dealing with the revelation, acquiescing that his remarks on the 47 per cent – including that they are “dependent on government”, do not pay tax and “believe that they are victims” – weren’t “elegantly stated” and he wanted to help “all Americans struggling in the Obama economy”.
- Our US columnist Ed Luce gives us his witty insight into the video leak, and how it is becoming increasingly difficult to “disentangle Mr Romney’s candidacy from his caricature“. Luce points out that there is little time for Romney to reapply his makeup before polling day, and that whether he backtracks further from his initial response about his turn of phrase or defends himself, he is in for a rough ride.
- Romney’s campaign was already struggling before last night’s video clips were released, explains Kirchgaessner, with Republican insiders deriding the campaign as not having “disciplined messaging, clear advertising strategy or the presentation of a convincing enough case to match Barack Obama“. Not all Republicans are worried at this stage though, and it is not all over, with polls still uggesting a tight race between the two nominees.
- While Romney accused 47% of adults of not paying income tax, his campaign has been dogged with questions about the nominee’s own past payments – forcing him to respond in August to pressure to release details of is tax affairs, a routine practice for presidential candidates established by his father in 1967.
- Romney has used his past as a successful businessman as a selling point of his campaign. Last month Robin Harding, the FT’s economics editor, investigated an early deal the presidential candidate was involved in for Bain Capital – Key Airlines – and the controversy surrounding the deal.
- The clearest sense of direction for Romney’s campaign arguably came when he announced Paul Ryan as his running mate, which also involved a blunder when he introduced Ryan as the next president of the US. Columnist Jacob Weisberg argued that Ryan was a “principled, conservative ideas man” compared with Romney’s “substantive vacuity”. However, he bets that conversely this will be detrimental to the Republican’s chances as it reframes the election as a choice between two visions of the social contract rather than a referendum on Obama’s economic performance.
Best of the rest:
- Mother Jones published the revealing video clip on Monday with an accompanying story that stated the video had been filmed at a fundraiser held at the Boca Raton home of controversial private equity manager Marc Leder in May. On Tuesday, it released a further video from the event where Romney explained his private views on foreign policy, which included the belief that Middle East peace is not possible nor a Palestinian state feasible. The liberal magazine also takes a look at Leder and his not-so-good poster boy for private equity.
- The New York Times takes a succinct look at who exactly are those 47 per cent that don’t pay income tax in a post by Annie Lowrie on its Economixs blog. In it, she points out that it is actually 46 per cent if he is referring to the Tax Policy Center’s report last year on those who don’t pay federal individual income tax, and that the reason they don’t pay is not avoidance but mostly because they are either too poor, or receive credits due to low income or being old. She also points out that the Bush tax cuts resulted in elimination of “millions of families’ ” federal income tax liabilities.
- Ezra Klein in his Policywonk blog on the Washington Post website dissects the people behind the 47 per cent further, also using the Tax Policy Center report (see graph) and data from the Heritage Foundation. He points out that of those that didn’t pay federal income tax 61 per cent paid payroll taxes to the tune of 15.3 per cent of their income. That’s higher than the 13.9 percent Romney says he paid. But Klein goes on to make the more interesting point that Romney’s comments are “less about who pays taxes now and more about who is going to pay to reduce the deficit in the coming years”. He argues that the Republicans have become angry at the “predictable” effect of the Bush tax cuts that they say freed some from paying income tax and made them a dependent “taker” class, and are using that frustration justify an agenda that further cuts taxes on the rich while paying for it through cutting social services for the poor.
- Alex Massie in The Spectator makes the case that there were some lines in Romney’s now infamous speech that didn’t sound too bad, offering “a better, reasonable, more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger approach“. However, he argues that if Romney is correct in Obama having 47 per cent of the electorate tied up (assuming an impossible 100 per cent turnout) then “Romney needs 96 per cent of the remaining 53 per cent of voters if he’s to get to 51 per cent of the popular vote”. Romney isn’t quite toast, he says, but he is in the toaster.
- David Brooks in the New York Times offers Romney a tiny smidgen of sympathy calling him a “kind, decent man who says stupid things because he is pretending to be something he is not — some sort of cartoonish government-hater”, and that his entitlement ideas are important but that the incompetency needs to end. He says that after adjusting for inflation, entitlement transfers to individuals have grown by more than 700 percent over the last 50 years, adding that it has risen faster under Republican governments. Romney’s views underscore his lack of understanding of his own country, he argues.
- Romney’s video comments have revived memories of Obama’s own blunders in 2008 when he was caught on tape saying that small-town voters were bitter people who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them”. William Kristol in the Weekly Standard is among them, remarking that Romney’s comments are “stupid and arrogant” like those of Obama four years ago. He argues that: “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!).” He ends his piece showing equal love for Romney as he has for Obama.
- Daily Intel’s Joe Coscarelli delves into details on how the video was leaked, which takes readers to meet James Carter IV, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, but after months of ploughing the internet as an “opposition researcher” uncovered a portion of the video uploaded on YouTube back in May, and continuous research led him to the author.