DANVILLE, KY — For the first time on a debate stage Thursday night, voters got to see Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” line put into action against the Republican presidential campaign.
It was a fantasy moment for Democrats and Obama supporters, who thought the line was their ticket back to the White House when it emerged a month ago. Republicans feel good about how it went though — after a barrage of 47 percent zingers from Vice President Joe Biden, the Romney campaign told TPM that Paul Ryan pretty much nailed it.
In short, top Romney adviser Ed Gillespie said, Ryan diffused the 47 percent bomb pretty handily.
“I think Paul was very good at pointing out … the kind of man Romney is,” Gillespie told TPM in the post-debate spin room. “Someone who does care about his fellow citizens and someone who not only cares about them in terms of public policies, but also in his personal life and the way he lived his life.”
Biden clearly came to Kentucky with “47 percent” locked and loaded, mentioning it several times on stage.
“I’ve had it up to here with this notion that 47 percent — it’s about time they take some responsibility here,” Biden said during a discussion about unemployment. “And instead of signing pledges to Grover Norquist not to ask the wealthiest among us to contribute to bring back the middle class, they should be signing a pledge saying to the middle class we’re going to level the playing field; we’re going to give you a fair shot again; we are going to not repeat the mistakes we made in the past by having a different set of rules for Wall Street and Main Street, making sure that we continue to hemorrhage these tax cuts for the super wealthy.”
This was essentially exactly what Democrats wanted to hear from Obama. After that debate, the Obama campaign said the president didn’t mention the 47 percent because it “just didn’t come up.” Biden didn’t wait for the moderator to bring raise the topic, however — he just went for it, again and again.
Not surprisingly, Ryan seemed prepared for that.
“This is a man who gave 30 percent of his income to charity, more than the two of us combined. Mitt Romney’s a good man,” Ryan said later in the debate when the line came up again. “He cares about 100 percent of Americans in this country. And with respect to that quote, I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way.”
Romney’s evolution on 47 percent has been well-documented, taking the Republican nominee from standing by his larger point while calling his phrasing “inelegant” to full contrition. Ryan picked up on the latter stages of that path with his response to 47 percent in Danville.
Ryan’s zinger was essentially the fantasy Republican response to Biden, whom the GOP casts as a gaffe-prone Mr. Magoo-type. Gillespie said he wasn’t worried to see 47 percent take center stage again after he saw Ryan go at it.
“Paul addressed that very well in terms of making the point that Gov. Romney will help 100 percent of Americans, lift people out of poverty, and help people get jobs,” he said. “As Paul pointed out, and the vice president might be able to relate to, sometimes things don’t come out the way you meant them to. And that was the case, as Gov. Romney has said.”
But Democrats may yet have the last word. Biden told debate viewers he didn’t believe a word of the Romney-Ryan 47 percent mea culpa.
“[If you] think he just made a mistake, then … I got a bridge to sell you,” Biden said.