Some conservatives see opportunity in Romney '47 percent' remarks

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In the remarks taped at a fundraising dinner in May, Romney said that 47 percent of Americans pay no income taxes, are dependent on government and will vote for President Obama. He adds that his "job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Host Rush Limbaugh on his Tuesday show took a positive view of the comments. 

"This could be the opportunity for Romney and for that campaign to finally take the gloves off and take the fear off and just start explaining conservatism. Start explaining liberty to people and what it means, and explain that they don't have to be in that 47 percent," Limbaugh said.

At National Review, columnist John O’Sullivan immediately urged Romney to own up to the remarks and embrace their core argument. 

He said today that Romney was too soft in his response to the leak.

Romney should have “stood by his comments. That’s that. No ifs, buts, or maybes, and especially no soothing syrup about 'not elegantly stated.' He was telling the truth and he’s not backing off,” O’Sullivan wrote.

“He was telling the truth about the most important issue in the election — how Americans are taxed in hidden as well as open ways so that many of them don’t even realize the degree to which they’re being taxed. Then he should have made the rest of his statement a philippic on Obama and the tax issue,” he added.

Also in National Review, Michael Walsh writes that “What he ought to do is step up and embrace the basic division in our nation, including the fact that nearly half the country pays no income taxes. Acknowledge it — and then explain why, morally, this is not a good thing.”

“Will Romney rise to the occasion and fight? Or will he retreat? Only one path can lead to victory in November. The fate of his candidacy will hinge on the answer,” Walsh adds.

The Heritage Foundation’s Brian Darling told The Hill that Romney has a chance now to more fully present voters with the choice of two futures that GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan has been talking about.

“I think this is an education opportunity to talk about the fact that a high percentage are taking out of the system and are not paying in,” Darling said.

Darling said that more and more people are becoming reliant on the government, and Democrats are using that to win elections. According to him, Romney’s remarks just expose their strategy.

“It is in essence class warfare. I think we have a situation now where some people will be going to the ballot box, perceive they are benefiting from government without having to pay in, and they will vote for the candidate who will protect that who situation," Darling said. 

"Liberals will lose this debate, because this debate is not happening in France or Germany. It is in the free market-loving United States. American’s despise dependency, because it undermines the American dream of being rewarded when you build a business yourself." 

Heritage seized the opportunity on Tuesday to highlight its own studies on government dependence.

“Americans relying on the federal government received an average $32,748 worth of benefits in 2010. That’s more than the average American’s personal disposable income of $32,446,” it stated in a release. 

Tea Party Patriots also said it "welcomed the debate, sparked by Governor Romney, over the clear division between personal dependency on a government that overspends taxpayer dollars, and a strong economy in which everyone can participate."

“This election poses a choice for voters: do you want a country dependent on government programs and handouts, or do you want a country with an economy that produces good jobs and returns America to a higher standard of living?,” said Jenny Beth Martin, the group's national coordinator.

The optimism of some conservative thinkers and pundits is not shared by all.

The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol called Romney's comments “arrogant” and “stupid.”

“It's worth recalling that a good chunk of the 47 percent who don't pay income taxes are Romney supporters — especially of course seniors (who might well 'believe they are entitled to heath care,' a position Romney agrees with), as well as many lower-income Americans (including men and women serving in the military) who think conservative policies are better for the country even if they're not getting a tax cut under the Romney plan,” Kristol wrote. 

“So Romney seems to have contempt not just for the Democrats who oppose him, but for tens of millions who intend to vote for him.”

“It remains important for the country that Romney wins in November (unless he chooses to step down and we get the Ryan-Rubio ticket we deserve!). But that shouldn't blind us to the fact that Romney's comments, like those of Obama four years ago, are stupid and arrogant,” he said.

David Brooks in The New York Times also blasted Romney, saying the comments indicated he did not understand America.

“He’s running a depressingly inept presidential campaign. Mr. Romney, your entitlement reform ideas are essential, but when will the incompetence stop?” Brooks wrote.

This story was updated at 1:06 p.m.

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