In the first 24 hours of the political crisis created by his secretly recorded “off-the-cuff” remarks at a fundraiser, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has telegraphed some important information about his leadership style in times of stress: Don’t back down.
Romney has now twice personally addressed the fallout from his videotaped comments that 47 percent of Americans feel they are entitled to a carefree life at the government’s expense, and in each instance, he displayed not a smidgen of regret or self-correction for what many considered a calloused description of people who earn too little to pay income taxes. In each instance — once at a late-evening press conference in California on Monday and then in an appearance on Fox News on Tuesday afternoon — Romney reinforced the ideas in the video, albeit in softer terms than he used when he was speaking freely with supporters and donors at a $50,000-a-head dinner earlier this year.
He even said in the Fox interview that he was unfazed by the video published by the Mother Jones website because it highlights his differences with President Obama.
“A lot of people are hurting in this country, and the president’s policies are not working,” Romney said on Neil Cavuto’s show. “I’m not going to be too critical of how people get the message out. It’s out there in a big way, and l will focus on the kind of choice that America has.”
On the show, Romney reiterated the points he made the night before in California, hours after the story broke: “A society based upon a government-centered nation, where government plays a larger role and redistributes money, that’s the wrong course for America. That won’t help people out of poverty. I believe the right course for America is one where government steps in to help those that are need. We are compassionate people, but we let people build their own lives. We believe in free people and free enterprise, not redistribution [of wealth].”
It is the kind of tough-love talk that Romney likes to use when appealing to his base supporters, the conservatives who anchor the party ideologically and who have kept him at arm’s length because of his record of moderate policies as the governor of Massachusetts. In a close election where it’s critical for Romney to turn out his base supporters — the tea party and the rest of the "no-prisoners" crowd — Romney displayed a thick skin and repeatedly emphasized the prevailing conservative notion that wealth should be earned, not “redistributed” by the government.
He used a very similar strategy last week, during another political storm over his quick and, as it turned out, inaccurate criticism of Obama at the outbreak of violent protests in Libya and Egypt. Rather than acknowledge his statements as a misstep, Romney repeated his assertions at a press conference that the administration sympathized with the anti-American protesters, though the facts did not bear that out. Several few weeks earlier, during a July appearance at the NAACP national conference, Romney, rather than offer a conciliatory message, harshly criticized the president’s health care plan in front of the predominately black, liberal, pro-Obama, pro-health-care crowd, eliciting boos.
In the video unearthed by Mother Jones, a liberal magazine, Romney expresses disdain for Obama’s supporters as people “who believe the 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.” He says, “These are people who pay no income tax,” and notes, “my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Pretty tough talk, but not necessarily out of place in the current, radically polarized climate in politics, where gridlock impedes even the basic work of government and an Us-versus-Them mentality overrides conciliation and compromise every time.