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Should Romney Double Down On Video Comments?


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, Leo Manzano came home from the London Olympics with a silver medal. It was a proud moment for his family and for the country, but how he displayed that pride landed him in a little hot water. We're going to talk to the runner about that and how he made history in London. That conversation is in just a few minutes.

But first, we return to our conversation with Maria Teresa Kumar, president and CEO of Voto Latino. That's a nonpartisan group that encourages Latinos to get involved in the political process. She's also former aide to the House Democratic Caucus. Mary Kate Cary is a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. She's a blogger and columnist for U.S. News and World Report.

Before the break, Maria Teresa, you wanted to make one additional point.

MARIA TERESA KUMAR: Well, I think what Romney's statement basically says is that there is divisive - there are divisive politics, but they're definitely coming from the Republican side. When all of a sudden you're saying that there's a group of Americans that are mooching off people that are doing well - Americans are hardworking and I think that you can't - you know, you can't contest that. And the fact that they aspire to be wealthy, they aspire to be where Mitt Romney is and by him going off and just basically trying to sideswipe them, saying that they're a bunch of moochers, that's unfair.

MARY KATE CARY: Well, he didn't use the word, moocher, but...

KUMAR: He didn't have to, though.

CARY: Well...

KUMAR: I think - I mean, I think, if you read between the lines, you can basically say that people are basically - they're lazy. They...

CARY: No. He didn't use lazy. I just think he was talking - when he was talking about - some of the things he said were stuff I don't agree with. I don't think everybody in that crowd thinks of themselves as victims or as going to be dependent on the government for the rest of their lives. I do think he was talking politically about - that is a block of the electorate that I am not going to be able to win over.

The rest of his comments, which are not right here, are that he's going for that 5 to 10 percent in the middle who are persuadable and so I do think this was a political conversation that's getting twisted into a moral conversation that I don't think he meant to have. I don't think he was saying that.

MARTIN: OK. OK. Well, let's talk about some of the other issues and there are subsequent excerpts of the videos that were emerging. One of them has to do with the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and here's a clip.

MITT ROMNEY: The Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace and that the, and that the, the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish.

MARTIN: Mary Kate, I have to ask and - that this is not what Mr. Romney says on the campaign trail. In fact, the Republican platform doesn't say that. The Republican platform still says, you know, a two-state solution.

CARY: Right.

MARTIN: And that's the point of view, that's the position that Mr. Romney's taken on the campaign trail. What's the...

CARY: My response to that is, he's - I agree. David Corn needs to release all eight gigabytes of this and let people see the whole - and that was just two sentences. I don't think that it's fair to judge without seeing the whole context of this because I really - I'm at a loss to explain this because I haven't seen the whole transcript.

KUMAR: Right. But I think, Mary Kate...

CARY: He should release the whole thing.

KUMAR: Yeah. I think they absolutely should release the whole thing, but I think, also - this also, you know, gives you pause and say, was Mitt Romney playing to the crowd? Was he basically twisting his...

CARY: Well, it was a closed press event. Yeah. I mean...

KUMAR: It was closed, but...

CARY: It's fair to...

KUMAR: But was he playing to the crowd in - because he was fundraising them and trying to figure out - again, changing his voice? And we've - and it's not the first time we've seen him. Right? Depending on who he talks to, he changes his positions and he flip-flops. So was this flip-flop Romney, in the sense that he was saying, OK. Well, this is a group of folks in Boca Raton, Florida who care about...

CARY: Well, just because it's...

KUMAR: ...Israel in a way that many others won't.

CARY: Right.

MARTIN: Well, what about this other thing. I wanted to ask about what he said about the Latino voters. He said that the Republican Party and the nation would be in trouble if Latino voters become as committed to Democrats as African-American voters. Are you tweeted about this. Tell me why you thought that was important.

KUMAR: Well, I thought that was important because, once again, it demonstrates that Mitt Romney sees the Latino vote as monolithic and he doesn't realize how - not only are they multi-dimensional, but they actually care about a lot of possibly Republican issues, such as small business, small taxes and you could go down the line, reform in education.

But because he's already made up his mind that this is a solidly winning Democratic base, he's not going after them in a way that he could actually win the election. Let's not forget. George Bush won 40 percent of the Latino vote because he understood their nuance.

MARTIN: OK. And, Mary Kate, you know what? You know what I really want to ask you, though, Mary Kate, is I'm putting on your communications hat, though.


CARY: Yeah.

MARTIN: What would you do if you were advising him? Now, I mean, we did have a quote from a press conference that he gave after the excerpts were released, where he essentially said what you just said...

CARY: Right.

MARTIN: ...which is, I'm not backing away from these comments. That's a fight I'd like to have.

CARY: Yeah.

MARTIN: So is...

CARY: I would continue to call for all of the transcripts to be released so people can look at it for themselves, just like Maria was saying - Maria Teresa was saying. But I think - yeah. Bring it on. He should give a speech, like, tomorrow, if he can...

KUMAR: Absolutely.

CARY: One problem with his campaign is he doesn't seem to be quite as nimble as I would like in terms of responding to this stuff. You know, last week, especially, with the Libyan remarks, I think he should have defended those much more forcefully than he did. That was a great debate to have about whether to condemn violence first or point the finger at Americans.

KUMAR: I think he's too much of a white board candidate. Right? Too much of that consultant, where he sits back and tries to analyze...

CARY: He needs to make a speech.

KUMAR: Yeah.

CARY: Bring it into the debates. You know, I hope they ask him about it in the debates.

MARTIN: Well, just going back to David - you know - Brooks' column in the New York Times, which was posted in September 17th, his - what he argues is that the reason that these gaffes are ongoing is that Mitt Romney is trying to pretend to be someone he's not...

KUMAR: Exactly.

MARTIN: ...which is a big government hater. These are not really his core beliefs and that...

CARY: I don't know about that.

MARTIN: ...he's pandering to every crowd that he's in, so I - what is your sense of that?

CARY: Yeah. I think - I think the problem is that Mitt Romney's not a career politician. He's a businessman who's, you know, jumped into this. I don't think he's particularly good at campaigning and I particularly - I would rather have someone who's good at governing rather than good at campaigning.

KUMAR: But, to govern, you have to have policies and you have to understand where the country's going and yet...

CARY: He's got policies. He's just not getting them out there. He's got them.

KUMAR: And I think - you know, and I think that this - again, his statement of the 47 percent - if he were president tomorrow, would he leave the 47 percent behind? And I think that's a big question that needs to be answered and, unfortunately, I'm not comfortable that he'd actually take care of the 47 percent.

MARTIN: Well, what should the Obama campaign do in response here? And I understand that that's not your job to advise this. Neither of your job to advise either of these campaigns. But what do you think the response should be?

KUMAR: I think...

MARTIN: As a person who's also been victimized by gaffes, as it were, or if you want to put it, right.


KUMAR: I mean, I think, one, is that he - the more the president talks about jobs and the hardworking American, I think that's something that's going to actually resonate a lot with the American public, but all he has to do is really clip up a lot of the - a lot of what the tape says and put them into battleground - key battleground states and have Mitt Romney speak for himself.

MARTIN: Why do you say that?

KUMAR: Because the way he delivers the message basically ingrains in the American people what people already sense of Mitt Romney, that he's not a straight shooter, that he's not necessarily truthful, that he does change his opinion depending on who's he talking to, his audiences, and that, fundamentally, he doesn't understand them. And that says it all.

MARTIN: Mary Kate, I'm going to give you another chance to address this.

CARY: The - I think the bigger problem is that, like I said, this unsustainable economically and Obama doesn't seem to have a plan for lower taxes, for all Americans to have a stake in the economy moving forward.

MARTIN: What about the compassion question?

CARY: I think he needs to have some ideas for...

MARTIN: Right. Well, what about the compassion question? I mean, during the Republican National Convention, there were a lot of - you know, there was a lot of testimony about Mr. Romney from his wife, from a number of other people, some very moving statements about people whom he personally touched over the years.

CARY: Right, right.

MARTIN: Does this undermine that? Does this undermine the case that he's trying to make that he does understand your pain?

CARY: No. I think it reflects it beautifully.

MARTIN: If he does feel your pain...

CARY: I think the fact that he was a missionary for years of his life and so involved in his church says to me he's a very compassionate man who does care about the 47 percent and, you know, his answer to this is a rising tide lifts all boats and we've got to go that way. And I think that's the argument he needs to make because President Obama, I don't think, can make that argument.

MARTIN: All right. I'm going to give Maria Teresa the last word. Mary Kate, I gave you the first word.

CARY: That's OK.

MARTIN: In this segment, I'm going to give Maria Teresa the last word. Maria Teresa?

KUMAR: I think that the big issue with Mitt Romney is that he's not someone that folks trust, but he also seems completely out of touch. The fact that he, again, says that 40 percent of Americans are victims basically nails the coffin on the - nails the nail in the coffin, basically, saying, you know what? He is out of touch. He's not someone that I can identify with. And when it comes to voting, am I going to vote for him?

MARTIN: Maria Teresa Kumar is president and CEO of Voto Latina. That's a nonpartisan group that encourages civic engagement among Latinos. She's also former aide to the House Democratic Caucus. Mary Kate Cary is a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. She is now a blogger and columnist for U.S. News and World Report. They were both kind enough to join us in our Washington, D.C. studios.

Thank you both.

CARY: Thanks.

KUMAR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.