A recent viral YouTube video has left the Mitt Romney campaign on damage control. The Republican presidential nominee was caught on camera telling donors in a closed-door fundraising event in May that nearly half of the population is set on voting for President Barack Obama because these voters want to depend on the government to provide for them.
The secretly-taped video, posted by the left-leaning Mother Jones, shows Romney telling big money donors that forty-seven percent of Americans will vote for Barack Obama regardless of policy or quality of leadership. He said these people do not pay taxes, are dependent on the government, and do not take personal responsibility for their own lives. Essentially, he accused forty-seven percent of the electorate of being freeloaders:
“There are forty-seven percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are forty-seven percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to take care of them. Who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”
This is Mitt Romney’s “YouTube moment.” The same thing happened to Barack Obama in 2008 when he was recorded telling supporters and donors that rural voters cling to their guns, religion, and an “antipathy towards people who are not like them.” He was speaking of the hardships small town residents were experiencing in the Midwest and the way they dealt with the frustrations caused by their present circumstances.
In both cases, the presidential candidates spoke very candidly about voters they fail to connect with. Candidates will speak with less caution behind closed doors because they believe it is safe to do so and they know what their donors want to hear. Obviously, Barack Obama’s remarks did not badly hinder his chances at winning the Democratic nomination nor the general election.
Whether one examines Obama’s message to donors in 2008 or the latest hitch in the Romney campaign, these type of behind-the-scenes comments are an example of election politics in its purist form. To add to comments that have already received mass media attention, Romney added that his job “is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
The goal Mitt Romney has is not to convince every single voter that he will provide adequate leadership as president nor that he will promote policies that will benefit all Americans. The focus for campaign strategists, Republican or Democrat, is to get to 270 electoral votes, which means catering to the voters the candidate absolutely needs to get there.
The problem the GOP presidential hopeful has experienced is the ability to appeal to several demographics within the electorate, including a large independent voting bloc that he characterizes in the same video as being emotionally-driven. This important segment of the voting population includes low income earners that may get back most, if not all, of the income tax withheld from their pay at tax time, but still pay other taxes.
When Barack Obama ran for his first term in 2008 he had likability and a massive amount of enthusiasm on which to build his campaign. Mitt Romney doesn’t have that appeal because he is not saying anything that could effectively reach average voters who want someone they believe can genuinely understand their plight.
Many voters want to support a presidential candidate that understands the economic burden that weighs heavily on middle and low income households. They don’t want to vote for someone who seems completely detached from the reality that there are many people in this country who, despite their hard work, are struggling. It is hard to connect with voters when a candidate accuses half of the electorate of being lazy, dependent freeloaders.