By Jules Witcover
March 8, 2013
After three months of licking the wounds of his defeat, Mitt Romney surfaced this week on Fox News with a somewhat unexpected rationale for his disappointing election outcome. What cost him the White House, he seemed to say, was what he loved to call and still calls "Obamacare."
Throughout the campaign, Mr. Romney hammered away at President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. He depicted it as a hugely unpopular power grab that he would "repeal and replace" when he got to the Oval Office, with the grateful relief and support of the American public.
But when asked Sunday why he had lost, here's what Mr. Romney said: "It's a proven political strategy, which is you have a bunch of money from the government to a group and, guess what, they'll vote for you. ... The president had the power of incumbency. Obamacare was very attractive, particularly to those without health insurance. And they came out in large numbers to vote" for his opponent.
It sounded as if Mr. Romney, his chief political advisers and the bulk of the Republican Party had based much of their campaign on opposition to a program in the belief this would be their ticket to the presidency. And that they had sorely misread the sentiment in the country at large about it.
Mr. Romney suggested that the health care law was the decisive political issue for minority voters who in the end brought him down. "The weakness that our campaign had and I had," he said, "is we weren't effective in taking our message primarily to minority voters, to Hispanic Americans, African-Americans, other minorities. We did very well with the majority population but not with minority populations," which voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Obama.
These observations inevitably recycled Mr. Romney's campaign comment to a closed meeting of donors that the "47 percent" of Americans "are dependent upon government ... believe they are victims ... believe that government has a responsibility to care for them," and thus would never vote for the GOP nominee.
Mr. Romney candidly acknowledges now that "it was a very unfortunate remark that I made. It's not what I meant. I didn't express myself as I wished I would have. You know, when you speak in private, you don't spend as much time thinking about how something could be twisted, distorted and it could come out wrong and be used. But I did [say it], and it was very harmful. What I said is not what I believe. ... My whole life has been devoted to helping people, all of the people."
Mr. Romney's implication that the 47 percent comment had been "twisted and distorted" belied the fact that the remark was recorded and videotaped for all the country to see and hear.
Earlier in the same interview, Mr. Romney's wife, Ann, acknowledged that she and one of her sons were frustrated that their own campaign resisted family urgings that more of the nominee's personal life be made public. But she argued that the election loss "was not just the campaign's fault."
She went on: "I believe it was the media's fault as well, that he was not being given a fair shake, that people weren't really allowed to see him for who he was." She said she was "happy to blame the media," that "our side believe that there is more bias in favor of the other side," and that "I think that is a universal, pretty universally felt opinion."
At the same time, Ann Romney confessed that while "we certainly had the passion coming from our side ... I don't think we were as aware of the passion that was coming from the other side," and that "we were a little blindsided by that."
And when asked by Fox anchor Chris Wallace about the image that "you were so wealthy that you were somehow out of touch with the concerns of the average American," she inartfully replied: "That's a reality, you know, you can't change. I mean, we are who we are."
Yes, but it might have helped had her husband been a bit more attuned to, and articulate about, how the other half lives.
Jules Witcover, a syndicated columnist, is a former longtime writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). You can respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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