David Frum

10.05.12

Mitt Disowns Rand, Embraces the 100%

Not entirely, but a major step in the right direction, and Romney's disavowal of his own use of Randian-inspired language is an important moment in the history of the modern GOP.

In an interview Thursday night with Fox News, Romney was asked what he would have said had the "47 percent" comments come up during his debate in Denver on Wednesday night with President Barack Obama.

"Well, clearly in a campaign, with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you're going to say something that doesn't come out right," Romney said. "In this case, I said something that's just completely wrong."

He added: "And I absolutely believe, however, that my life has shown that I care about 100 percent and that's been demonstrated throughout my life. And this whole campaign is about the 100 percent."

I'm uncertain whether any degree of newfound centrism can shift the terrible polling numbers in Ohio, but this is a moment of reckoning for the Republican Party.

Following Romney's disparaging riff on the 47%, elements of the right urged Romney to make the battle between "makers" and "takers" the center of his campaign. (These are the same folks, not incidentally, who believed 2012 a banner year for pairing tax cuts and Medicare reform -- all this in the most uncertain economy in recent memory).

Those pundits were disastrously wrong, and there is a certain satisfaction in seeing Romney publicly acknowledge what he should have said the hour that tape was released: "I was wrong, and I'm sorry."

The nominee of the Grand Old Party must defend the idea that conservatism stands for the entirety of the American people. For all the sentimental nostalgia paid to conservate icons such as President Ronald Reagan, few of the self-appointed leaders on my party's fringe seem concerned by the reason Reagan achieved such political success: his proposals were aimed at bettering the lives of all Americans.

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Yes, the conservatism of Reagan was one of optimism. And, yes, our outlook today -- and the problems that cloud it -- is far different. But as David said several weeks ago, voters care about a simple question: "What will this presidency do for me?"

I envy neither President Obama nor a potential President Romney. 2013 is going to be a tough, tough year. The president will have to make an effort to tackle the debt problem, face down crisis in the form of a fiscal cliff, deal with burgeoning entitlement spending, and curtail health care costs. That isn't a formula for sunny skies ahead. So what can either presidency do for voters? We're not certain.

But we do know that voters who believe Mitt deplores them will have little compunction in not voting for him. And they certainly won't trust a Randian Romney to manage the reforms our nation so desperately needs without feeling like they're getting the raw end of the deal. To return to David's September rant, "dick you over' is not a winning answer."

Mitt's running on a time honored slogan: "Believe in America." That's great, but let's make a slight addition:

"Believe in All of America."

Make it explicit, make it direct. Romney should care about every single voter in this country, and he will work from day one to better their lives and those of their loved ones.

So although Romney should have apologized on September 18, it's a good thing he finally issued a mea culpa. It might be too little, too late, but it prevents America's conservative movement from jumping into the nihilistic abyss of Ayn Rand's fantasy world. And most of all, it signals just how wrong an idea it is to separate the American people into arbitrary categories of "makers" and "takers."

That alone would be an achievement worthy of admiration. And better yet, it'd be a real example of Mitt being severely conservative.