John Avlon Independent Nation

11.14.12

The Final Insult: Mitt Romney’s Clueless Gift Gaffe

Speaking to donors, the salesman candidate blamed his loss on the president's pitch with no evident sense of the irony, writes John Avlon.

Mitt Romney made his final newsworthy post-election pronouncement, explaining to a conference call of big-dollar donors that he had fallen short because President Barack Obama had bribed liberal special interests with expensive gifts. 

Here’s what he said, according to The New York Times:

“With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest, was a big gift…Free contraceptives were very big with young college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008 … You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity, I mean, this is huge … Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus. But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called DREAM Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.”

Romney’s comments about his opponent’s “old playbook,” as he called it, again revived a dystopian scenario conservatives have been warning about since the New Deal, where Democrats “buy” a permanent majority and undermine democracy at the cost of the productive class. Using this old myth to explain his defeat illustrates again Romney’s disconnect from modern America. He views growing groups—young voters and particularly young women, and Hispanics—as outside special interests, and not as an essential part of the fabric of America.

And it shows the mind of a man who believes that everything is for sale—including, or especially, votes. This is consistent with what I always felt was the most accurate criticism of Romney: that he approached politics as a salesman, offering every group a different pitch. From that perspective, it’s easy to see how he could complain about government as a competing salesman, cobbling together constituencies with “gifts”—which sound perilously close to “bribes” in this context.

A final point: President Obama backing the DREAM Act or contraception coverage is not a nakedly political gesture, it is a matter of policy difference. Addressing the needs and desires of people is not a bribe or a government gift to be exchanged for a vote. It is part of the purpose of representative government as conservative forefather Edmund Burke himself once envisioned: “Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. Men have a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom.”

Romney’s distance from this perspective about government shows how far the conservative conversation has drifted from original principles. His impulse to rationalize defeat as victory for liberal special-interest bribery shows again that it is probably best for the country that he was not elected president this November.