The wide release of Mitt Romney's remarks about the "47 percent" of the country who the GOP presidential nominee says he'll "never convince" to "take personal responsibility and care for their lives" has largely led to a philosophical discussion over whether it will hurt or help Romney's chances in November.
But downticket, Romney's fellow Republicans -- specifically those who find themselves in tight races -- are finding his remarks to be toxic. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who is in a tight reelection battle against Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), had emerged as the favorite of late, owing to Berkley getting caught up in an ethics investigation. But this donor party video has forced Heller to put some distance between himself and Romney, with Heller insisting that he has a “very different view of the world” than his party's standard-bearer. Rosalind S. Helderman of the Washington Post captures Heller's remarks:
“Keep in mind, I have five brothers and sisters. My father was an auto mechanic. My mother was a school cook. I have a very different view of the world,” Heller said. “And as United States Senator, I think I represent everyone, and every vote’s important. Every vote’s important in this race. I don’t write off anybody.”
Heller is now the third GOP Senate candidate to be affected by the practical, political fallout from Romney's remarks. Earlier this week, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) -- whose race against Elizabeth Warren has perhaps the most noticeably populist overtones -- split with Romney over his remarks in a statement from which Heller seems to have partially cribbed:
That’s not the way I view the world. As someone who grew up in tough circumstances, I know that being on public assistance is not a spot that anyone wants to be in. Too many people today who want to work are being forced into public assistance for lack of jobs.
Brown followed the lead of his fellow New England Republican Linda McMahon, a candidate for Senate in Connecticut -- who, it should be noted, was for Romney's "47%" rhetoric before she was against it -- and Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.).
The disowning of Romney's remarks has not been limited to those seeking office in 2012. New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez (R) has also rebuked Romney's argument. "We have a lot of people that are at the poverty level in New Mexico, but they count just as much as anybody else,” Martinez said. “There is a net that does allow them to be caught and taken care of, whether it be through medical services, whether it be food services, whether it be with funding for apartments, for housing ... I think, certainly the fact that New Mexico provides that safety net is a good thing." Martinez will not be up for reelection until 2014, but she was a Romney endorser, a key speaker at the Republican National Convention, and was considered to be in the running for Romney's vice presidential selection.
Conservatives more oriented to the national horserace, of course, have been divided over whether Romney's remarks necessitate a "denunciation," followed by an "intervention" -- as Peggy Noonan implies -- or if they present him with a "golden opportunity," as Rush Limbaugh has suggested. When you move downticket, however, it becomes clear that Republican candidates in tight races don't have the time to spend litigating the matter -- especially at a time when the GOP is seeing its chances at reclaiming a Senate majority start to slip.
Said Heller, “I just don’t want to make it a habit of having to respond to comments made by other campaigns."
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"That's not the way I view the world. As someone who grew up in tough circumstances, I know that being on public assistance is not a spot that anyone wants to be in. Too many people today who want to work are being forced into public assistance for lack of jobs," Scott said in an email to <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/senate-races/250157-sen-scott-brown-denounces-romney-comments" target="_hplink">The Hill</a>.
"He was obviously inarticulate in making this point," Ryan <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/18/paul-ryan-mitt-romney-video_n_1895403.html" target="_hplink">said</a> during an interview with a Nevada television station.
"This could be the opportunity for Romney, and for that campaign, to finally take the gloves off and take the fear off and just start explaining conservatism, start explaining liberty to people and what it means," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/18/rush-limbaugh-mitt-romney_n_1893882.html" target="_hplink">Limbaugh said</a> Tuesday. "And explain that they don't need to be in that 47 percent. There's no reason for them, for everybody to be -- essentially having given up on their future in this country. There's no reason for it. This is, to me, such an opportunity to espouse conservatism."
"Mitt Romney probably could have better explained himself. I think he was a little clumsy in doing this," <a href="http://thehill.com/video/house/249975-rep-allen-west-romney-a-little-clumsy-with-47-percent-comment" target="_hplink">West said</a> on Fox News.
"Sure, there are some government programs that cultivate patterns of dependency in some people. I'd put federal disability payments and unemployment insurance in this category. But, as a description of America today, Romney's comment is a country-club fantasy. It's what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney," <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/18/opinion/brooks-thurston-howell-romney.html?ref=davidbrooks" target="_hplink">Brooks wrote</a>. "He's running a depressingly inept presidential campaign. Mr. Romney, your entitlement reform ideas are essential, but when will the incompetence stop?"
"It remains important for the country that Romney wins in November (unless he chooses to step down and we get the Ryan-Rubio ticket we deserve!). But that shouldn't blind us to the fact that Romney's comments, like those of Obama four years ago, are stupid and arrogant," <a href="http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/note-romney-s-arrogant-and-stupid-remarks_652548.html" target="_hplink">Kristol wrote</a>.
"He has to not apologize, because we've seen enough apologizing already, and he cannot apologize," <a href="http://thehill.com/video/campaign/249993-trump-romney-cannot-apologize-for-inartful-comments-at-fundraiser" target="_hplink">Trump said</a> on NBC News. "What he said is probably what he means." Trump also said that Romney's words were "inartfully stated."
"The Romney campaign should double down on what he said. They should own it. The trouble for the left and media (but I repeat myself) is that most Americans agree with Mitt Romney. Most Americans consider themselves part of the 53% and it is not a winning proposition for Barack Obama to convince Americans they are less than they think they are when most Americans already recognize he has made them less than they were," <a href="http://www.redstate.com/2012/09/17/treat-the-press-as-enemy-collaborators/" target="_hplink">Erickson wrote</a> in a blog post on RedState.com.
"[Romney] believes that every American has got to have skin in the game...he doesn't want what the president wants," <a href="http://www.politico.com/blogs/burns-haberman/2012/09/christie-romney-wants-to-empower-people-135893.html" target="_hplink">Christie said</a> on Fox News, adding that Romney wants to "empower individuals...and that's what he's really talking about."
"The idea that you're declaring, 'Well, the race is over. Mitt Romney doesn't care about people,'" <a href="http://www.mediaite.com/tv/laura-ingraham-fired-up-over-romneys-47-tape-its-ridiculous-this-is-getting-airtime/" target="_hplink">Ingraham said </a>on Fox News. "Meanwhile, you have a president whose policies have undermined the 47 percent. ... I'm very pumped up about this. I think it's ridiculous that people are seizing on it and that we're even giving all that much airtime to it, frankly."
"I disagree with Governor Romney's insinuation that 47% of Americans believe they are victims who must depend on the government for their care. I know that the vast majority of those who rely on government are not in that situation because they want to be. People today are struggling because the government has failed to keep America competitive, failed to support job creators, and failed to get our economy back on track," <a href="http://www.lindaforsenate2012.com/news/press-releases/2012/09/18/linda-mcmahon-response-to-mitt-romneys-remarks/" target="_hplink">McMahon said</a> in a statement.
"To read many of the reactions on Twitter, you'd think Mother Jones had just found video of Mitt Romney strangling a hooker with her own pantyhose," <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/322394/quick-thoughts-freeloaderdammerung-jonah-goldberg" target="_hplink">Goldberg wrote</a>. "Indeed, many people understand what Romney is getting at here, even if he's saying it badly."