Earlier this week, the liberal magazine Mother Jones released a video recording of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney telling a roomful of Republican donors that it would be impossible to convince the 47% of Americans who don’t pay federal income taxes to vote for him.
Though Romney has taken a lot of heat for those comments, the truth is that Romney has a point: it’s hard for Republicans to appeal to voters who don’t pay federal income taxes. Republican economic proposals center on tax cuts, but it’s impossible to cut the federal incomes taxes of people who don’t pay federal income taxes. Of course, many of those people do pay federal payroll taxes, but cutting payroll taxes would undermine the long-term solvency of Medicare and Social Security.
Romney can offer these voters the promise of more jobs. But for many people who are out of work, the possibility of getting one of the 12 million jobs Romney is promising to create isn’t a tangible enough benefit on which to base their votes.
Romney can’t promise these voters new government programs. Many of them are already eligible for food stamps, Pell grants, Medicare, Medicaid and unemployment insurance. Mitt Romney isn’t advocating harsh cuts for any of these programs, but he can’t retain his conservative credentials and offer to make them more generous either.
A combination of foreign policy mistakes, a retreat on social issues, and the lack of room to maneuver on taxes has left Republicans with precious little on the policy plate to offer the 47%.
President George W. Bush and his advisers recognized that Republicans needed to offer these voters something tangible. Thus the lower-income tax cuts, the child tax credit, Medicare Part D, and No Child Left Behind. While many conservatives complain about the Bush administration’s spending record, Bush’s strategy was effective politically.
Unfortunately for Mitt Romney, he’s right that voters are selfish. Despite what they may claim, the long-term fiscal health of the nation is far from the minds of most voters when they enter the voting booth.
Brandon J. Gaylord, the editor-in-chief of HorseRacePolitics.com, is a graduate of George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. Brandon got his start in politics as an intern in Vice President Richard Cheney’s Office of Political Affairs.