On the surface, Donald Trump and Mitt Romney seem to represent opposite ends of the 1 percent spectrum. The refined Romney, the son of a moderate governor and presidential candidate, seems more at home at a dressage performance than he would be at one of Trump’s gaudy, gold-plated properties.
Trump, a real estate developer and reality TV star, considers himself a builder of things, a man of the people, and thinks of Romney and others in the world of private equity and hedge funds as mere number-crunchers.
“The hedge fund guys didn’t build this country,” Trump has said. “These are guys that shift paper around and they get lucky. They are energetic. They are very smart. But a lot of them ― they are paper-pushers.”
It was Romney’s inability to connect with a huge swath of the country that undid his 2012 presidential bid ― epitomized by a surreptitious video of him at a fundraiser that was recorded, appropriately enough, by Scott Prouty, the bartender on duty.
It turns out that while Romney and Trump may look down the economic ladder from different perspectives, they both see the same thing below them: a sea of sloth.
Romney, who inherited much of his wealth and gamed the tax code to earn the rest, was roundly criticized when he said, “the 47 percent who are with [President Barack Obama], who are dependent on government, who believe that, that they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them. Who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing.”
Trump, who also inherited much of his wealth, leapt to Romney’s defense.
“He shouldn’t even come close to apologizing,” Trump advised. Since then, he has carried forward Romney’s message consistently, saying, “Bring on this discussion.”
That Trump can say the same thing as Romney and suffer no political backlash is a reflection of how a public image can both create weaknesses and a shield from attack. Romney’s comments were so damaging because they confirmed an impression that many voters already had. The setting and the audience contributed to the power of the words. Had Romney said the same thing at a public press conference, it may have generated less blowback ― but the public got a look at what he was saying to wealthy donors when he thought he was speaking privately.
Ben Carson, who dropped out of the GOP primary race in March, has said there are two sides to Trump. But he appears to be the only person who has come forward to make such a claim. Trump, more likely, is the same guy in private as he is on the stage, meaning that his version of a 47 percent video is unlikely to emerge. It’s hard to imagine what Trump could say in private, considering what he has said publicly, that would be so shocking to his supporters that it would cause them to consider voting for Hillary Clinton.
Watch the video above, cut by J.M. Rieger, to see the similarity. Like what you’re reading? Sign up here to get an email when reporter Ryan Grim publishes a new story.