Just 24 hours ago, Mitt Romney was already in a rough spot. With the presidential election seven weeks away, he was coming off a bad week in which he cravenly tried to exploit the deaths of Americans abroad for partisan gain, watched President Obama solidify his lead in the polls, and found his aides sniping at one another in the press.
By mid-morning yesterday, Team Romney was determined to get back on track, signaling shifts in strategy, a new ad campaign, and a renewed focus. Nothing to worry about, hand-wringing Republicans, campaign aides said, everything is just fine.
And then Mother Jones' David Corn reported that Romney trashed half the country in a secretly-taped fundraiser, and fleshed out additional details with Rachel last night.
In case you haven't seen the damaging quote itself, Romney, talking casually to some wealthy supporters, presented this argument:
"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 the 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.... 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. So 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 they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
The Romney campaign does not deny the legitimacy of the video or the accuracy of the quote.
Presidential candidates can get away with quite a bit during a campaign, but when a multi-millionaire talks trash about half the country while hobnobbing with other multi-millionaires, it's safe to say that candidate has a rather dramatic problem on his hands. Indeed, keep in mind, this wasn't a gaffe or an accident -- this was Romney speaking his mind in ways we don't usually see.
As this relates to tax policy, it's true that nearly half the country has no federal income tax burden (though they pay plenty of other taxes). But while Romney sees this 47 percent of Americans as lazy moochers who refuse to "take personal responsibility," the truth is we're talking about millions of seniors who've left the workforce, Americans with disabilities who can't work, students who have not yet entered the workforce, millions of low-income families, and middle-class families who take advantage of tax credits Republicans have traditionally supported.
In other words, Romney is not only expressing contempt for nearly half of the American population, he doesn't even seem to understand those he's condemning. On the contrary, the Republican candidate seems to believe these Americans are indolent schemers trying to get away with something, which is demonstrably ridiculous.
For that matter, Romney doesn't even understand the politics of the issue. In his mind, all of these people are Obama supporters, which doesn't even make any sense.
But what makes this scandal so devastating is the scope of the offense.
Romney accuses Obama of being divisive, especially when it comes to class, but here's a video of Romney castigating nearly half the country based on class. Romney's rhetoric says he wants to bring people together, but the clip shows him saying he considers it his job "not to worry about those people."
And for my money, the most damaging phrase of all is, "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility." Half the country, in Romney's eyes, is made up of slothful and pathetic losers.
As Jim Messina, the campaign manager for Obama for America, put it, "It's hard to serve as president for all Americans when you've disdainfully written off half the nation." It's also worth keeping in mind that Romney has been accused of going years without paying federal income taxes himself -- a charge that, if true, would put him in this lazy 47 percent himself. We don't know for sure, however, if the allegations are accurate because Romney refuses to release his tax returns.