Many mainstream Republican commentators have cringed at Mitt Romney’s secretly video-taped comments in which he suggested 47% of Americans are government-dependent “victims” – but a powerful group of conservative agitators have welcomed the remarks.
They have fervently embraced Romney’s private attack on those who receive benefits from the state as a chance to put forward a more hardline anti-government philosophy, and urged Romney not to back away from his comments.
Chief among those backing Romney is conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, whose show attracts millions of conservative listeners across America and has brought him immense political influence.
“This is such a golden opportunity,” Limbaugh said during his afternoon radio show. “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, and explain that they don’t have to be in that 47%.”
Limbaugh went on to say that he often attended big Republican fundraisers, like the one in Florida at which Romney was recorded, and that many politicians were often more bluntly conservative in private than in public.
“They are as conservative as you and I are. I’ve spoken to them privately. The candidates I see on the campaign trail versus the ones that tell me what they really think are two different people. He [Romney] was basically telling these people that we have reached a crossroads in this country. You and I talk about it all the time,” Limbaugh said.
Conservative blogger Erick Erickson, founder of the influential Republican website Red State, said Romney should take the remarks and press forward with them.
“Team Romney should force this debate onto the national stage. They should not walk it back. The American people are with him,” Erickson wrote in a blogpost addressing the fallout from the political controversy.
“Romney’s point about government dependency ties perfectly to the dreadful economic news of late,” he wrote.
Others agreed. Michael Walsh, writing for the National Review, said this was a big political opportunity for Romney. “Romney sounded remarkably like … a real conservative. He ought to own it,” he said in a piece that labelled the crisis ‘Mitt’s Gettysburg moment’ after the famous civil war battle of 1863.
Romney’s team has so far appeared to have heeded the advice of the conservative base over more establishment conservatives, some of whom – like the New York Times’ David Brooks and the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol – have been withering in their criticism of Romney.
While accepting that his language was not “elegantly stated”, Romney has not backtracked from his comments. Indeed, some of his conservative supporters have have now attacked those criticising Romney.
Walsh singled out Brooks’ as deploying “faulty logic” and that his column read as if “wicked Republicans want to rend the safety net and turn it into tying rope for their yachts”.
Limbaugh summed up much of the conservative reaction to the spat with the final words on his segment about the issue.
“Romney has to get out there, take this by the horns, turn it into a positive, and go right for those people since they’re now listening. Especially if they think they’ve been insulted – even better! This is the time to go talk to them,” he said.