Mitt Romney Is Still Trying to Explain Away His "47 Percent" Remarks

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
July 29 2013 1:47 PM

Mitt Romney Is Still Trying, Failing to Explain Away His "47 Percent" Remarks

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Former Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney delivers remarks during the second day of the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) March 15, 2013

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Mitt Romney, speaking at a closed-door fundraiser on May 17, 2012, video of which was published by Mother Jones on Sept. 17 and subsequently replayed on cable news on what felt like a near constant loop in the lead-up to the November election (emphasis added throughout):

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, 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. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. And I mean, the president starts off with 48, 49, 48—he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. And he'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that's what they sell every four years. And so 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."
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Mitt Romney, speaking in January 2013 to the Washington Post's Dan Balz about the now-infamous comments during an interview for the reporter's upcoming book on the 2012 election, an excerpt of which was published by his paper over the weekend (The "I" is Balz; the "he" is Romney):

I interjected, "But when you said there are 47 percent who won’t take personal responsibility — " Before I finished, he jumped in. "Actually, I didn’t say that. . . .That’s how it began to be perceived, and so I had to ultimately respond to the perception, because perception is reality."
Scanning his notes on an iPad, [Romney] began to read a long quotation, offering commentary as he read. At one point, he focused on the question posed at the Florida fundraiser. "Audience member: ‘For the last three years, all of us have been told this, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.’ How are you going to do it in two months before the elections, to convince everyone you’ve got to take care of yourself?’ And I’m saying that isn’t my job. In two months, my job is to get the people in the middle. But this was perceived as, ‘Oh, he’s saying 47 percent of the people he doesn’t care about or he’s insensitive to or they don’t care — they don’t take responsibility for their life.’ No, no. I’m saying 47 percent of the people don’t pay taxes and therefore they don’t warm to our tax message. But the people who are voting for [Obama], my job isn’t to try and get them. My job is to get the people in the middle. And I go on and say that. Take a look. Look at the full quote. But I realized, look, perception is reality. The perception is I’m saying I don’t care about 47 percent of the people or something of that nature, and that’s simply wrong."

Of course, that's a slightly different defense than Romney offered during the campaign, when he initially said that his comments were "not elegantly stated" before later downgrading them to "just completely wrong." I say slightly because even then Romney did his best to spin the remarks as something of an artificial blip that didn't represent his true views. The difference this time, however, seems to be that Romney is now arguing not just with how his remarks were widely interpreted, but with the actual words he was quoted/recorded saying in the first place.

There is at least one piece of conventional wisdom about the MoJo footage that Romney does agree with, however: "Well, clearly that was a very damaging quote and hurt my campaign effort." You can read Balz's full excerpt here. You can also check out the reaction of MoJo's David Corn, who first published the video, here.

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Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.