Mitt Romney's America: Why Makers, 'Gifts', and Takers Is a Losing Vision

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Better to remain silent and be thought a plutocrat than to speak out and remove all doubt

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If you're running for elected office and find yourself in the business of blaming the voters, stop. Odds are, you're losing. Or you've just lost.

It was true for millions of Bush-era Democrats, who rallied around What's the Matter With Kansas and its ilk when it seemed the party had lost middle America to allegedly duped "values voters" forever. And it was true of Mitt Romney, who told donors in an unscripted moment this summer that he had written off the 47% of the country that doesn't pay federal income taxes because they were "dependent on government" and would "vote for the president no matter what."

And there Romney went again yesterday, using his first public words since the election to blame his loss on minorities receiving "gifts" from the Obama administration.

"The Obama campaign was following the old playbook of giving a lot of stuff to groups that they hoped they could get to vote for them and be motivated to go out to the polls, specifically the African American community, the Hispanic community and young people," Romney told donors on a Wednesday phone call. "In each case they were very generous in what they gave to those groups."

These comments are misguided at both the micro-statistics level and the big picture level. For the record, it wasn't Romney, but rather Obama who won the white vote in the whitest states, and the reelected president won women (including white women) by a wider margin that Romney won men.

But the most glaring thing Romney missed is that politics is precisely the business of "giving a lot of stuff to groups that [you hope] vote for you." Democrats and Republicans are never not doing this. The Republican primary was an unofficial competition to see which candidate could promise steep tax cuts for the rich to attract ultraconservative voters. Medicare Part D was, in part, an elegant ploy to seal the senior citizen block in key states like Florida. While fighting two wars and growing non-defense discretionary spending, President George W. Bush cut taxes for practically every household by thousands -- and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars. It probably won him some votes!

There is no single reason why Mitt Romney lost six in ten of electoral votes last Tuesday, but it probably starts with this graph: The bloc of voters that conservatives rely on is eroding and the bloc of voters that conservatives used to be able to safely ignore is growing.

11-07-12-Population-Projections-01.png

What do Republicans need to turn this around? "A lot of stuff," actually. They don't just need an immigration reform bill, or an Obamacare truce, or a shift away from policies that appear to preference the rich, although all might help. They need to develop a new framework to talk about social mobility for the fastest growing swath of American voters, which is more likely to be low-income and seeking opportunities to move up the ladder. As we've said here before, Hispanics and blacks and young single women really are more likely to want "stuff" from government because they're overwhelmingly more likely to have less money. Cut income taxes, cut income taxes, cut income taxes is a good, straightforward pitch to the top 10% of earners who pay 70% of income taxes. Not so much for the 50% of Americans who don't.

Mitt Romney is absolutely right. He lost the election because one party had a clearer plan for removing the risks of unfettered capitalism and investing in areas that could raise incomes and opportunities for the *majority* of the electorate. He lost because he sees the country divided between those who receive gifts from government and those who give to their country. It's not an attractive theory, nor is it remotely accurate. It is better to remain silent and let people think you're a plutocrat than open your mouth and eliminate all doubt.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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