Yesterday, a video appeared of Mitt Romney telling rich donors that he was not going to be able to convince the 47 percent of America that does not pay income tax to vote for him.
He said they “believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”
“I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
It was a big-time screw-up that Romney said such a thing, and that such a video got out.
Slagging on half of America is the kind of wait-a-second-who-is-this-guy verbal gaffe that might cost Romney the election. That’s what Bloomberg’s Josh Barro, The New York Times’ David Brooks, and whole bunch of other political pundits think, anyway.
The ironic thing is that Romney has spent most of his political career trying harder than anyone else to avoid just such a screw-up.
The reason: Romney’s dad was also once a Republican governor running for President with a decent shot at winning. But then he screwed everything up with a too candid remark during a televised interview.
Before he was against the Vietnam war, Mitt’s dad, George, had been for it.
When he ran for President in 1967, a local TV interviewer named Lou Gordon asked George Romney why he had changed his mind.
Romney said he had visited Vietnam and that the generals there had “brainwashed” him.
Here’s a transcript of that interview, which was eventually quoted in The New York Times and then papers across the country:
Gordon: Isn’t your position a bit inconsistent with what it was? And what do you propose we do now?
Romney: Well, you know, when I came back from Vietnam, I had just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get. When you—
Gordon: By the generals?
Romney: Not only by the generals but also by the diplomatic corps over there. They do a very thorough job. Since returning from Vietnam, I’ve gone into the history of Vietnam all the way back into World War II and before. And, as a result, I have changed my mind in that particular. I no longer believe that it was necessary for us to get involved in South Vietnam to stop Communist aggression in Southeast Asia . . . and I’ve indicated that it was tragic that we became involved in the conflict.
You don’t want your president to be susceptible to brainwashing, and so Romney’s Republican rival, Richard Nixon, picked up on the comment and made a lot of hay with it.
George Romney went from the favorite for the Republican nomination, with 34 percent supporting him in February 1967, to an also-ran by November, with just 14 percent support.
In their excellent biography of Mitt Romney, “The Real Romney,” Michael Kranish and Scott Helman make the case that the “brainwash” screw-up was a pivotal moment in Mitt’s life. They argue that it is the reason Mitt Romney is often such a buttoned-up, scripted, un-relatable candidate.
Mitt’s sister Jane, put it this way in “The Real Romney”: “The brainwash thing—has that affected us? You bet. Mitt is naturally a diplomat, but I think that made him more so. He’s not going to put himself out on a limb. He’s more cautious, more scripted.”
And yet, here he is today, dealing with the fallout of being a little bit too honest in his spoken opinions.
There’s video of the George Romney gaffe, of course … (And, see also: The 10 Best ‘Rich Mitt’ Moments >)
We learned all this reading “The Real Romney,” a deeply reported and informative book by Michael Kranish and Scott Helman. You should read it if want to know about the guy whom half the country wants to be our next president. Order the up-coming, updated, paperback version here.