Six months ago at a high-dollar fundraising dinner, Mitt Romney was secretly recorded as he criticized the “47 percent” of Americans “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that 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.” Romney told his donors: “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.”
When the recording surfaced, Romney insisted he hadn’t meant what he said. “Over the last several years, you’ve seen greater and greater divisiveness in this country,” he told Latinos at a Univision forum on Sept. 19. “My campaign is about the 100 percent in America. … More people have fallen into poverty. More people, we just learned, have had to go onto food stamps. … This campaign is about helping people who need help, and right now, the people who are poor in this country need help getting out of poverty.”
In a campaign with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you’re going to say something that doesn’t come out right. In this case, I said something that’s just completely wrong. And I absolutely believe, however, that my life has shown that I care about the 100 percent … The rich in this country are actually doing better under President Obama. The gap between the rich and the poor has gotten larger. … I want the poor to get into the middle class.
For the rest of the campaign, that was Romney’s story. The candidate in the video, telling his donors that half of all Americans were unsalvageable freeloaders, was an artificial blip. The real Romney was the nice man on TV who yearned to help his countrymen.
But now we have a second recording. It documents another conversation between Romney and his wealthiest contributors. This conversation isn’t six months, six weeks, or even six days old. It happened yesterday, on a conference call with Romney’s finance committee. The recording bears an uncanny resemblance to the 47 percent video. It strongly suggests that the Romney in the video is the real thing, and the Romney on TV is a fraud.
According to transcriptions, notes, and partial audio of the call, Romney told his contributors that Obama’s strategy was to “focus on certain members of his base coalition, give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government, and then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote.” These gifts, Romney lamented, “add up to trillions of dollars” and were delivered to “targeted groups,” “especially the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people”:
With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift. Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because, as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people.
In comments reportedly related to blacks and other minorities, Romney observed:
You can imagine, for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it—getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity—I mean, this is huge. Likewise, with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus. But in addition, with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.
When you read these quotes and listen to the audio, three patterns sink in. First, everything Romney says on the conference call is the opposite of what he said in the debates. In the debates, Romney pledged to “make it easier for kids to afford college” and bragged that as governor, he had given students “four years tuition free to the college of your choice.” On the call, he depicts college loan assistance as a bribe. In the debates, Romney labeled Obamacare a big-government mandate that would force everyone to buy a product, would cost 20 million people their health insurance, and would raise every family’s premiums by $2,500 a year. On the call, he describes Obamacare as “free health care” worth $10,000 per family. In the debates, Romney claimed that “under my plan … young people are able to stay on their family plan.” On the call, he brushes off this idea as a “gift” used by Obama to buy votes. In the debates, Romney said “every woman in America should have access to contraceptives.” On the call, he caricatures Obama’s policy—that insurance plans must cover birth control for the premium payer—as “free contraceptives” for young women.
Second, the Romney on the call matches the Romney in the 47 percent video. In the same resigned tone, he speaks of scores of millions of Americans hooked on free health care and other benefits. But this time, he itemizes the constituencies and reports that they’ve paid back their benefactor with their votes, just as he predicted.
Third, the call belies everything Romney said in his attempts to clean up the 47 percent video. At the Sept. 19 Univision forum, Romney said the country was too divided, and he proclaimed his commitment to the poor. On the call, he depicts blacks, Latinos, and young women as interest groups bought off by handouts and amnesty. At the Univision forum, Romney framed food stamps as something unemployed people “had to go onto.” On the call, he casts public assistance as “extraordinary financial gifts” eagerly seized in exchange for votes. In the Oct. 4 Hannity interview, Romney excused his 47 percent riff as a one-time verbal flub “in a campaign with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions.” On the call, at length, he repeats it.
Don’t bother trying to explain yourself, Mitt. The 47 percent of us who gave you a pass the first time won’t make that mistake again. We can tell you’re being candid. Just not with us.
William Saletan’s latest short takes on the news, via Twitter: