Quote of the Day: Did Romney Want to be Booed by the NAACP?
Our political Quote of the Day touches on a theory that slowly began to make its way into the mainstream punditry by late afternoon yesterday. The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky believes Team Romney wanted their candidate to be booed and he accuses Romney of being a race baiter in the way the speech was constructed to frame him to a portion of moderate and not so moderate voters. Here are a few chunks of it:
Until yesterday, I thought of Mitt Romney as a spineless, disingenuous, and supercilious but more or less decently intentioned person who at least wasn’t the race-mongering pyromaniac that some other Republican candidates of my lifetime have been. Then he gave his speech to the NAACP, and now I think of him as a spineless, disingenuous, supercilious, race-mongering pyromaniac who is very poorly intentioned indeed, and woe to us if this man sets foot in the White House as anything but a tourist.
He does support his argument. For instance:
Let’s bat the easy charges out of the way first. Spineless? Please. He’s taken every position the Tea Party base has asked and a few they didn’t. Disingenuous? Easy. Either he’s lying now about health care, abortion rights, his support for Ronald Reagan, and his posture toward Grover Norquist’s no-tax pledge, or he was lying then. Supercilious? Seems appropriate and perhaps even a bit mild for a man who made fun of NASCAR fans’ rain ponchos and a working-class family’s cookie service.
But he wasn’t a race-baiter until yesterday. That speech wasn’t to the NAACP. It was to Rush Limbaugh. It was to Tea Party Nation. It was to Fox News. Oh, he said some nice things. And sure, let’s give him one point for going there at all. But listen: You don’t go into the NAACP and use the word “Obamacare” and think that you’re not going to hear some boos. It’s a heavily loaded word, and Romney and his people know very well that liberals and the president’s supporters consider it an insult. He and his team had to know those boos were coming, and Romney acknowledged as much a few hours later in an interview with . . . guess which channel (hint: it’s the one whose web site often has to close articles about race to commenters because of the blatant racism). Romney and team obviously concluded that a little shower of boos was perfectly fine because the story “Romney Booed at NAACP” would jazz up their (very white) base.
Blame the media for making such a big deal of it? Come on. When a candidate’s staffers are preparing a speech, they know very well exactly what line the press is going to lead with. Speeches are written with precisely that intent (or if they’re not, someone is sleeping on the job). The mention, for the record, was couched, with appropriate plausible deniability, in the middle of a list of five things he’d do to get the economy humming again. (Speech text here.) Point three concerned reducing government spending and bring down the debt: “To do this, I will eliminate expensive non-essential programs like Obamacare, and I will work to reform and save Medicare and Social Security, in part by means-testing their benefits.”
The context is crucial, and the fact that it was mentioned in passing certainly does not absolve Romney because it was just one item on a list.
He is correct about that. Romney is supposed to have a crack political team. Only a political team ON crack could think that using the word “Obamacare” in front of a group widely believed to be highly supportive of Obama would not elicit a boo. Some analysts yesterday suggested it was a slip.
But Tomasky and others who suggest Romney’s real audience was NOT the folks in the room but the folks controlling talk shows on the radio, on cable, the segment of swing voters that will consider this Romney being brave, etc. are correct.
If Romney truly had wanted to win over his audience he would have adjusted his rhetoric — just as he has adjusted his rhetoric to win over conservatives in primaries or at least to win them over enough for them to hold their noses and vote for him.
But he didn’t. Which means his audience wasn’t in the room.
And there is nothing intrinsically wrong about that.
In 2008, Obama made other appearances to tough crowds. Recall, as the writer Rich Yeselson reminded me yesterday, that he walked into a similar sort of lion’s den that year when he appeared at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church alongside John McCain. Obama may have been deluding himself in thinking that he could win over Warren’s flock, and he stated his positions on abortion rights and other matters clearly. But he somehow managed to walk out of the place without having hurled any gratuitous broadsides at his hosts.
We learned a great deal about Mitt Romney yesterday, and what we learned only adds to the picture of this little, plastic fellow who thinks he can get points from white moderates (as explained by an aide to BuzzFeed) by appearing at the NAACP while generating high-fives on the white right for rubbing dirt in the faces of its members while there. Did I earlier give him a point for going there at all? I hereby withdraw it. He went only to send “signals” to other constituencies entirely. I hope those swing voters he was partly aiming for become aware of just how badly he swung and missed on this one.
My own feeling?
–Romney’s folks felt a little booing wouldn’t hurt if it took place.
–He was not really addressing the folks the room; he was framing himself so he could perceived in a certain way by conservative voters and a segment of that non-monolithic group known as “swing voters.”
–If he had NOT attended the NAACP he would have been hammered by pundits and on MSNBC for being a racist.
So he went, aimed his speech at the voters he was trying to reach, and the boos helped get attention to his speech and how he framed himself. Rush Limbaugh isn’t offended that he used the word “Obamacare.”
Meanwhile, his biggest “sin” in the eyes of some pundits is the fact he brought some African-American politicians along with him who loudly clapped at his key lines. It sort of reminds me of the late comedian Milton Berle, who had his mother attend many of his shows when he was coming up in show biz, and she laughed the loudest.
Romney’s mission in several ways was to frame himself a certain way in the eyes of voters he feels he can win over.
He did, and the NAACP speech helped him do that.
In more ways than one.
UPDATE: Another perspective comes from The Root’s David Swerdlick:
Give Mitt Romney credit. On Wednesday in Houston, he addressed the NAACP’s 103rd annual convention, made his case and gave African-American voters — who will still undoubtedly remain solidly behind President Barack Obama — something to think about.
Telling the members of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization that “support is asked for and earned,” Romney acknowledged the trust deficit between the GOP and many black voters, but he also argued that his campaign is “about helping the middle class in America” and that “the course the president has set won’t do that.”
And with a smirk that he probably couldn’t help — and that probably didn’t help him — Romney added, “If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him.”
Slow down, governor.
The speech was good, but it wasn’t that good.
Romney did at least one thing better than the President. He kept it brief — avoiding those minutes of every Obama speech that leave you wondering if White House speechwriters get paid by the word. And he followed my advice to leave his church’s once-tenuous but improved relationship with African Americans out of it.
All in all, Romney got what he wanted. Giving a keynote address to a skeptical constituency gives him a chance to try doing what the last GOP president couldn’t: be a uniter, not a divider. But there were a few key points that turned what could have been a win into a push at best:
Go to the link and read it in its entirety.