By Jules Witcover
6:00 AM EST, November 20, 2012
Defeated presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who helped do himself in with his closed-door characterization of nearly half of all Americans as content to live off federal handouts, wasted no time doubling down on the theory.
He did so in a conference call with donors saying President Barack Obama won re-election essentially by bestowing "gifts" to minority voters, the young and women through his policies and campaign promises. Mr. Romney cited the extended benefits of the Affordable Care Act, free contraceptives and forgiveness of interest on college loans essentially as bribes that helped put Mr. Obama over the top.
That is how he explained the overwhelming support these voters gave the president, including more than 70 percent among Hispanic and Asians and 94 percent from fellow blacks. Their turnout for Mr. Obama more than countered Mr. Romney's success with white, male voters, many of whom responded to the loser's pitch to repeal "Obamacare" and the other policy goodies in his own bag of temptations for their ballots.
Still other Republicans explained their nominee's loss of the White House by arguing he had not effectively sold the GOP brand of smaller government, entitlement and tax reform in a lackluster and gaffe-filled campaign. They suggested that he let Mr. Obama outdo him in appealing to the middle-class electorate, and by casting him as the candidate and tool of the similarly wealthy.
Mr. Romney apparently again naively thought what he was saying in the conference call would not get beyond his immediate listeners. He offered that "the Obama campaign was following the old playbook of giving a lot of stuff to groups" to get their votes, "specifically the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people."
Reporters, doing what they do, either knew of the call and tapped into it or learned of Mr. Romney's remarks from folks who conveyed them to newspapers like the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times that quickly printed them. So much for Mitt's dysfunctional learning curve on privacy in politics.
At a post-election gathering of the Republican Governors Association in (where else?) Las Vegas, some of the principals unloaded on Mr. Romney for falling back on the same basic mind-set of his inability to broaden his voter support that got him into such hot water late in the campaign.
The incoming chairman of the RGA, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, an Indian-American being touted as a 2016 presidential hopeful, bluntly rejected Romney's latest remarks. "We need to stop being a dumb party, and that means more than (to) stop making dumb comments," he said, making no effort to soft-pedal his incredulity.
Ironically, Mr. Romney, who in his second failed presidential bid was seeking to achieve the presidency that the late Michigan Gov. George Romney sought 44 years ago, fell to the same curse of a wayward tongue that undid his dad.
Then, the father came a-cropper for saying, after a trip to Vietnam in search of his own position on it, that he had suffered a "brainwashing" at the hands of American generals and diplomats. The derision that crashed down on him forced him to drop his candidacy, clearing the path for the easy 1968 nomination of Richard Nixon. This time around, Mitt Romney has not once but twice self-immolated politically, thanks to misguided, volunteered remarks.
In blaming his loss on unreachable voters corralled by an opponent's promises, which after all is what campaigns are all about, Mr. Romney and his party could well learn a lesson from Bill Clinton. He won the presidency twice in part by offering an administration that "looks like America."
Mr. Romney instead, running as the nominee of a party seen too often as one of exclusion, paid the price, and now is bellyaching about Mr. Obama's appeal to many who saw themselves as excluded, or being dismissed as willing dependents on big government.
A danger for the party in Mr. Romney's defeat would be to regard it as simply a matter of having nominated the wrong candidate. In a way, he may have unwittingly underscored that the GOP must broaden its base from the white male support that fell short, a task that will require more inclusionary policies.
Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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