Commentary Magazine


What Romney Calls “Gifts,” Voters Call Solutions

The Obama reelection campaign’s impressive turnout and get-out-the-vote strategy took the president’s Republican opponents by surprise. But it appears to also be teaching Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan an incomplete, if not totally wrong, lesson about their loss to President Obama. Earlier this week, Ryan told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that “urban” turnout was key for the president, and dismissed the notion that the GOP ticket’s vision for the country was rejected by voters.

And then yesterday, on a conference call with donors and supporters, Romney expanded on that argument. He said the president offered “gifts” to minority voters, and named Obamacare and immigration as important parts of that. The New York Times reports:

“In each case, they were very generous in what they gave to those groups,” Mr. Romney said, contrasting Mr. Obama’s strategy to his own of “talking about big issues for the whole country: military strategy, foreign policy, a strong economy, creating jobs and so forth.”…

“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,” Mr. Romney said. “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 is not wrong in suggesting that demographic groups preferred what they heard from Obama to what they heard from Romney, but he is wrong in his characterization of it. First of all, there are many reasons Obama won reelection, not least of which is that he apparently had a 52 percent approval rating on Election Day.

Second, the obvious objection to Romney’s comments is that his own version of the health care reform plan served as a model for Obama’s. Did Romney think he was giving away free “gifts” to minorities and young voters when he designed the plan? Or did he think he was serving the people who elected him by solving a quality-of-life issue for the entire state of Massachusetts? In politics, it’s easy to impugn the motives of your opponent, but it’s fair to say that Obama targeted what he and many Americans saw as an economic hardship and a great injustice, especially to the poor. Romney may or may not agree with that, but I doubt he would take well to someone characterizing his signature achievement in office as crude politicking or vote buying.

And that gets to the larger problem with these comments. A very large portion of this country sees our immigration laws and those in favor of even stricter measures as a moral failure on the part of a country of immigrants. Hispanics don’t see “amnesty”–a path to citizenship–as a “gift” in exchange for their vote. It isn’t candy; it’s the difference between opportunities for their children and their families being torn apart.

Republicans don’t have to agree with liberal solutions to the problems facing the country. But they certainly should not ridicule the need for reform at many levels of government–indeed, they should embrace it, for much in our federal government needs reform. And making broad statements about jobs isn’t enough. To wit, the Romney message to Hispanics was that he will create jobs here but he wants them to “self-deport,” thus making those jobs unavailable to them anyway. In such a case, why on earth should they care what his jobs plan is?

Obama offered specifics, and Romney offered principles. But conservative principles should lead to conservative solutions–specifics, in other words. Romney doesn’t seem to have understood this. But he should take a look around his party. Republican governors like Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Rick Snyder, Rick Perry, and others offered voters the combination of conservative principles and conservative policy proposals. It is a winning combination, even in blue New Jersey. And it can be a winning combination nationally as well. That’s the lesson Romney should have learned on Election Day.