Mitt Romney has settled on a curious campaign strategy: insulting the people he needs to get elected as president.
At a $50,000-a-plate fundraiser last May in Boca Raton, Fla., Romney devolved himself of the curious thought that 47 percent of the electorate will vote for President Barack Obama "no matter what" because they are completely dependent on the government to care for them. They "believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. ... These are people who pay no income tax."
Casually dismissing nearly half of all Americans as freeloaders, he said that, presumably, as president: "My job is not to worry about these people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
The Tax Policy Center, which does independent analysis, says that, indeed, 46 percent of Americans paid no federal income tax last year, although they did pay other taxes: federal payroll and excise taxes, state and local income taxes, sales and property taxes.
The center says half of those who didn't pay income taxes didn't earn enough to owe any. Others didn't pay income taxes because of exemptions, deductions and credits intended to benefit senior citizens and low-income working families with children.
White senior citizens are -- or maybe, in light of events, were -- one of Romney's strongest demographics, and surely struggling blue-collar families might have been susceptible to his promise to create 12 million new jobs over the next four years.
But then the Romney campaign, being conducted at a leisurely, unhurried pace that surely worries his supporters, has strayed almost completely from what they thought would be their winning issue: jobs and the economy.
It is way too early to write off the GOP nominee's campaign, but there are signs of worry within: reports that ambitious Republicans are quietly elbowing and jostling to position themselves for 2016, just in case of a Romney loss, and further reports of dissension and infighting among his campaign staff, "a circular firing squad," as one observer put it.
There seems to be no good way to look at this incident. Either Romney really believes that nearly half of the country's residents are shiftless wards of the government or he was shamelessly pandering to a roomful of rich people, many of them no doubt skilled in the arts of tax avoidance. Neither explanation speaks well of him.
Dale McFeatters is a senior writer for the Scripps Howard News Service.