CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this article was unclear about the nature of a Mitt Romney speech contained in a Wall Street Journal editorial. The speech was fictional.
Mitt Romney is taking friendly fire over his recent "47 percent" comments from an increasing list of Republican heavyweights, including Peggy Noonan, William Kristol and The Wall Street Journal.
Noonan, a Journal columnist, called the Romney campaign "incompetent." Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, called Romney's remarks "stupid and arrogant." David Brooks, a conservative columnist for The New York Times, poked Romney as a cartoonish "Thurston Howell," who was running a "depressingly inept presidential campaign." He pleaded, "when will the incompetence stop?" And editors at The Wall Street Journal editorial page drafted the speech they say Romney might have delivered.
A Journal editorial purported to publish excerpts of what it calls a “draft” of a speech "leaked" to the newspaper by the Romney campaign at some point in the past. The piece, described in an email from Journal Editorial Page Editor Paul Gigot as "our version of what Romney might have said," touches on the same topics that drew criticism this week, but goes in the opposite direction, saying that Romney has “never believed” that Americans are divided between “makers and takers.”
In the "speech" the editors write: “You've probably also heard some people—some even in my own party—divide Americans between 'makers' and 'takers,'” the speech reads. “As if half the country wants to live off the other half. I've never believed that. That's no different from the kind of divisive politics that the President practices when he pits the wealthy against everyone else.”
The speech also takes note of those on food stamps, disability and the unemployed: "This is a national scandal. Not because those fellow Americans are free-loaders, but because they aren't able to get a good job that pays enough to be self-sufficient and lets them fulfill their human potential. “
The piece also directly addresses the “47 percent" issue, made famous in a comment to donors captured on video and published this week by Mother Jones magazine, but in a slightly different and more sympathetic way. “You may have heard some people say that about half the American people pay no income tax. That's true. But I know millions of those people do pay Social Security taxes, which are a tax on work. They're making their contribution to our government, and I don't want to—and will not—raise their taxes.”
Concludes the editorial: “Surely a man as smart as the former CEO of Bain Capital can give a better speech on taxes and dependency than he delivered at that fundraiser. If he can't, he'll lose, and he'll deserve to.”
After days of criticism, Romney continued damage control, with an op-ed that appears in Wednesday’s USA Today. In it, he does not reference his comments from the fundraiser, but writes that President Obama “fosters government dependency.” He goes on to write that “government has a role to play here,” but insists it is different from Obama’s vision of that role.
“My experience has taught me that government works best when it creates the space for individuals and families to pursue success and achieve great things," he wrote.