Judging from their rhetoric, both Democrats and Team Romney already think the GOP nomination fight is sealed up, and they’re turning their focus on the general election.
Consequently, even though it’s early in the year, we already know what one of the defining themes is going to be. There are a lot of phrases you could use for it. Dems might be minded to use “fairness” or “inequality.” Republicans might be quicker to call it “class warfare.” Now we know, however, how Romney himself is going to frame it: “the politics of envy.”
In his New Hampshire victory speech Tuesday night, Mitt Romney called President Obama “a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy.” Wednesday, a reporter asked Mitt Romney to clarify his remarks. Are discussions of inequality really about envy, or are they about fairness? Romney doubled-down:
QUESTIONER: Did you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of Wall Street and financial institutions, anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country, is envious? Is it about jealousy, or fairness?
ROMNEY: You know, I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare. When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99 percent versus one percent, and those people who have been most successful will be in the one percent, you have opened up a wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God.
What’s interesting here is that Romney isn’t trying to blur the distinctions. A different approach might have been to declare something along the lines of “I want to be the President of the 100 percent.” Instead, however, he burrowed further down into - in effect - protecting the status of the much-vilified one percent.
QUESTIONER: Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?
ROMNEY: I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like. But the president has made it part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail.
In many ways this would seem to be Romney moving to just where the Democrats want him. President Obama has already made it fairly clear that his re-election campaign will have a Theodore Roosevelt-like quality to it that will stress “fairness” and the Buffet Rule. However, Romney’s rhetoric suggests his team thinks they can battle this head on, and instead of blurring the grounds, make this a key distinction between the two men.
Democrats aren’t the only ones who will try to use Romney’s “envy” rhetoric against him. In Rock Hill, South Carolina Wednesday, Newt Gingrich also saw Romney’s comments as a golden opportunity:
I think it’s funny that on the one hand he wants to run around touting his record, on other hand if anybody asks a question about his record, he hides behind an entire framework and to question the facts is to be anti-capitalist. That is nonsense — baloney is the term I think I was using the other morning…That is the smoke screen of those who are afraid to be accountable.
Of course, the more Republicans like Newt weigh in on this, striking the same notes as Democrats, the more this line of attack seems a legitimate and non-partisan one rather than a sign of liberal extremism.
Watch the video of Romney on “the politics of envy” below:
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.