Political Hay

The Secret (Weapon) Romney Tapes

Just what the Republican's campaign needed to get back on message.

By 9.19.12

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The far-left magazine Mother Jones is making a splash, or what Democrats think is a splash, with video from a private fundraiser held in May for Mitt Romney. During the event, Romney spoke about the 47 percent of Americans who are dependent on government and pay no income tax and are therefore unlikely to favorably receive the Romney campaign's message, at least on the tax cut issue.

The left is now calling them the "secret Romney tapes," trying to raise images of Richard Nixon and late-night sweaty-brow conspiracies. In response to this clip being released, Mitt Romney said he hopes that whoever took the video will release all of it -- hardly the sign of a man afraid of his words. 

On Tuesday afternoon, Mother Jones obliged. The entire event can be seen here: Part 1 (which does not seem actually to begin at the beginning) and Part 2. On Wednesday, David Corn, the reporter who made the video(s) public admitted that the recording was not complete despite his earlier claims that it was.

In a late-night press conference on Monday, Romney said that his words were "not elegantly stated" -- which is certainly true -- but he stood up for the basic ideas. As well he should.

While the Romney campaign must not back off the issue of Obama's utter failure in foreign policy (but do a better job than Romney did in the first hours of the Middle East and North Africa turmoil), these so-called "secret tapes" could be precisely what the campaign needs to get back on to message about Obama's government-centered society of dependency and Romney's individual-centered society of opportunity.

To be sure, Romney's wording was clumsy, and some important portion of those who don't pay income tax certainly wish they earned enough to have to pay tax. A reporter asked Romney if he thinks he offended 47 percent of the country. Surely the reporter hopes so, and Romney didn't answer the question directly. But if 47 percent of the country was going to be offended by discussion of personal responsibility, then 47 percent of the country would be Democrats.

The real issue, which Romney can and must frame to the American electorate, is that President Obama is intentionally driving us off a fiscal cliff while chasing the liberal utopia of a government-centered entitlement society and income redistribution (from the turnabout-is-fair-play files, a newly found recording of Obama from 1998, same as he's always been...)

Compare the two men yourself:

When I hear Romney's words at this event, my reaction is "Say more of this stuff in public, Mitt. It's a strong and correct message (other than the use of a number as high as 47 percent) and it will resonate with many Americans, including quite a few who don't pay income tax."

The Obama campaign responded to news of the recording with a blog posting entitled "You won't believe this" in which they say that Romney's words "demonstrate… disgust and disdain for half of our fellow Americans." You will not be surprised to learn that Mother Jones columnist David Corn suggested in the original article that Mitt Romney's words show his "disdain for half of America."

This is obviously false. What Romney has is disdain for is Obama's vision for America, which unfortunately is coming more clearly into focus with each passing month.

A few data points speak for themselves:

• Under the Obama presidency, food stamp usage has increased by 46 percent, from 32 million people to nearly 47 million people. The cost of the program has grown even more dramatically, now at over $6.2 billion per month versus $3.6 billion when Obama took office, an increase of about 70 percent. Food stamp spending comprised about 80 percent of the cost of the most recent horrific "Farm Bill." This despite the number of unemployed people in America having risen "only" (a term I use very loosely considering we are in what the Obama administration terms a recovery) by half a million people over that same period. Fifteen percent of the American population is on food stamps. (Read that last sentence repeatedly until it sinks in.)

This is no accident. The federal government awards cash to states that increase food stamp participation (a program which pre-dates Obama's presidency). More insidious is this administration's working with the Mexican government to use Mexican consulates across the country to distribute to Mexican nationals information on how to get food stamps.

The USDA also spends millions of dollars on ad campaigns (also something that began under President Bush), now including Spanish-language multi-part "novelas" entitled "Hope Park" in which people who are not on food stamps are encouraged to sign up: "If you don't apply… you'll never know." Yes, you'll never know if you can bite into the pulsing artery of American workers' hard-earned income unless you try.

The USDA suggests that one "fresh idea" for getting senior citizens to sign up for food stamps is to "throw a great party":

Make it fun by having activities, games, food, and entertainment, and provide information about SNAP. Putting SNAP information in a game format like BINGO, crossword puzzles, or even a "true/false" quiz is fun and helps get your message across in a memorable way. 

• The increase in the number of Americans on Social Security Disability is over 14 percent in the three years since Obama took office (excluding the first 8 months of 2012), a rate of growth not seen since the Democrats' glory years under Bill Clinton. (In particular, the first few years after Clinton's income tax hike saw average growth in the disability roles of 18.5 percent per year, numbers that fell dramatically in 1997 following his being forced by the Gingrich Republican Congress to cut capital gains taxes and reform welfare.)

Of those workers (as opposed to widows, widowers, or disabled adult children) on disability, 15.2 percent qualify for their government check because of a "mood disorder." Between the sexes, it is 11.2 percent of male workers and a shocking 19.7 percent of female workers. These are not typos. Twenty-nine percent of workers on disability have "musculoskeletal" issues, i.e. "a bad back." Surprisingly, a higher percentage of women than of men also fall into this category. What percentage of these people do you believe are truly unable to work because of a disability and what percent just went with the "you'll never know unless you try (to get other people's money)" strategy?

• President Obama has expanded the definition of those who qualify for SCHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Program) in order to cause the greatest number of people to rely on government for health care. In 2009, Obama massively expanded the program, including removing Bush-era rules limiting states' ability to subsidize health care for families making more than 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Many states now have government-subsidized medicine for families making 300 percent or more of FPL, with New York at 400 percent, meaning government health care subsidies for a family of four with household income exceeding $92,000.

• Although Republicans are somewhat overstating the current situation and Democrats are furiously spinning, Obama's assault on the work requirement that was the heart of the Republicans' 1996 welfare reform law (which Bill Clinton signed after vetoing it twice) is another giant step toward increased dependency.

In particular, Obama claims the authority to issue waivers to states regarding work requirements for welfare recipients. The law does not allow him any such authority. To date, no such waivers have been issued, but unless a court smacks down Obama's illegal power grab, we are likely to see governors' waiver requests granted if Obama wins reelection, particularly in Democrat states where buying the votes of those 47 percent Romney mentioned is still the first order of business.

The 1996 law was the most successful entitlement reform in American (or perhaps world) history: It lowered child poverty and raised employment among single mothers, while causing a remarkable 57 percent drop in welfare caseloads. This success is Obama's target.


(Source: House Ways and Means Committe report on 15th Anniversary of 1996 law)

ROMNEY'S REMARKS at that same fundraiser about Obama's view of his own "magnetism and charm" and about the risk of Iran's getting a nuclear weapon are right on target. Indeed, Romney has nothing to be ashamed of from his May fundraiser, and his description of Obama's foreign policy as "extraordinarily naïve" is downright prescient.

One of Romney's most perceptive areas of discussion was in recognizing that his (and his audience's) Republican friends are not motivated by the same things, and do not see the world the same way, as most people who voted for Barack Obama. So much for Romney not understanding "the rest of America."

Romney also makes the absolutely correct point that one of the major impediments to his victory is how difficult it will be to get Obama voters to admit they made a mistake. This insight -- one I have been arguing for several months but rarely heard a politician utter -- must inform the campaign's messaging strategy to independent voters. So far, the best statement of the message has been by Clint Eastwood: "When somebody does not do the job, we gotta let him go."

The "secret Romney tapes" which has the left and the Obama campaign salivating should -- if the Romney campaign can stop snatching defeat from the jaws of victory -- be an object of pride and a central campaign message for the Romney campaign: "Mitt Romney believes these things about self-reliance, a strong economy, and a strong and realistic foreign policy in private and not just on the campaign trail."

Rather than allowing the media to drag him into late-night press conferences that make him look defensive, reactive, and unpresidential, Romney should tell them "I'll be with you when I'm ready" and make no apologies for heartfelt and true statements of principle and policy. He could take a lesson from the words of (and reaction to) Newt Gingrich.

The Hill newspaper found a "former top strategist to President George W. Bush" who said that Romney's comments "reveal a very cynical view" and are "pushing independent voters out the door." Other "strategists" who spoke anonymously said that the comment "reinforced perceptions that Romney was an uncaring, out-of-touch millionaire."

This is the kind of timid, back-away-from-principle view that led to Republicans getting much-deserved electoral shellackings in 2006 and 2008. Although I believe him to be a smart and good person, few Republicans have damaged the GOP brand the way President Bush did, with honorable mention to the GOP congressional leadership of the first half of that decade.

By talking about Romney's words with phrases like "I don't think we'll know the full extent of the damage for another 48 hours," these RINOs are playing right into Democrats' and the media's hands (sorry for the redundancy), giving the public an unjustified reason to believe that even conservatives disagree with Romney.

Another strategist, this one with the courage to use his name (Ford O'Connell), said that Romney's comments "will cost [him] a week that he can't afford to lose at this point in the election."

I disagree. The release of this video should be like adding octane booster to a tank that was recently and foolishly filled with low-octane, low-quality fuel, now allowing Romney to downshift, step on the gas, and get back into the race.

On Tuesday night, Obama joined the debate directly in an appearance on the David Letterman show. While Obama is picking on the few inartful parts of Romney's May fundraiser, the fact that Romney has drawn the president back into a discussion of entitlements is a good start for the Republican presidential hopeful.

The "secret Romney tapes" should become a primary campaign tool -- especially but not exclusively to remotivate the conservative base disappointed by the campaign's performance in recent weeks. Shout it from the rooftops, Mitt: "I love America and Americans. What I disdain is this president's vision for our nation: a vision of both individual and international dependency and weakness."

The secret Romney tapes should be Romney's new not-so-secret weapon.

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About the Author
Ross Kaminsky is a self-employed trader and investor and is a senior fellow of the Heartland Institute. He is the host of The Ross Kaminsky Show on Denver's NewsRadio 850 KOA on Saturday mornings from 6 AM to 9 AM. You can reach Ross by e-mail at rossputin(at)rossputin(dot)com.