What Mitt and Ann Say When They Think Only Wealthy Donors Are Listening

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
April 16 2012 12:52 PM

Beware the Hot Mic!

What Mitt and Ann say when they think only wealthy donors are listening.

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (L) and his wife, Ann Romney, speak during the NRA's Celebration of American Values Leadership Forum at the NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits April 13, 2012
Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, were both recently unaware of being overheard

Photograph by Whitney Curtis.

The maxims of the 2012 race are multiplying. The latest: Somewhere a microphone is always hot. On Sunday, Mitt Romney was unknowingly overheard at a Florida fundraiser by reporters for the Wall Street Journal and NBC News giving his wealthy backers a sneak preview of his presidential plans. He outlined some of his theories for cutting the bloated federal government, including eliminating the Department of Housing and Urban Development and trimming the Department of Education. He also floated the idea to the upscale crowd of removing the mortgage interest deduction for second homes as well as ending the state income tax deduction and state property tax deduction, tiny but specific steps on how he would remove loopholes in the tax code to pay for his tax cuts. He and his wife, Ann Romney, also delighted in the political "gift" given to them last week by Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen.  

The candid remarks present the latest test of our easy-sort campaign coverage system that we launched last week and they fall into two categories:

Frivolous and unimportant: A story that won’t change the election and tells us something we already knew—though perhaps in a new way.

According to Ann Romney, she had a lot of fun in her new political role. "It was my early birthday present for someone to be critical of me as a mother," she said. "That was a really defining moment, and I loved it." In response to last week's flap over comments by Hilary Rosen, President Obama said political wives should be off limits. Ann Romney's remarks show that she is well aware that she has an important political role to play in her husband's campaign. Though she would probably prefer not to be heard gloating in public, the fact that a political spouse plays politics should surprise no one.

Serious and Important: A development that voters should care about.

Like most presidential candidates, Mitt Romney is vague about how he would pay for tax cuts. He suggested in an interview with the Weekly Standard that getting specific only gets you into political trouble. But apparently he is willing to be specific with some people, in this case wealthy donors—though even this secret candor does almost nothing to illuminate his budget plans.This is a basic matter of being honest with voters, just as it was with President Obama and his remarks to the former Russian president (which Romney said was part of Obama’s "hide and seek campaign" in a recent speech.)

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

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