Romney Accused of Racism After Saying NAACP Wants ‘Free Stuff’

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Mitt Romney addresses the NAACP National Convention.
Mitt Romney addresses the NAACP National Convention. Photo: Eric Kayne/2012 Getty Images

Even before Mitt Romney delivered his speech before the NAACP National Convention on Wednesday, it seemed unlikely that his primary motive was to convince large numbers of black voters to turn against President Obama. After the speech, many pundits concluded that Romney actually wanted to get booed, and he even admitted in an interview that he "expected" to get a negative response. By the end of the day, things took a nastier turn when Romney told supporters that if those in the NAACP audience like "free stuff," they should vote for Obama, prompting some to accuse him of race baiting.

On Wednesday evening, a pool report surfaced from a fund-raiser in Hamilton, Montana, in which Romney revealed how he's framing the NAACP incident:

By the way, I had the privilege of speaking today at the NAACP convention in Houston and I gave them the same speech I am giving you. I don't give different speeches to different audiences alright. I gave them the same speech. When I mentioned I am going to get rid of Obamacare they weren't happy, I didn't get the same response. That's ok, I want people to know what I stand for and if I don't stand for what they want, go vote for someone else, that's just fine. But I hope people understand this, your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy-more free stuff. But don't forget nothing is really free.

While reporting the news, Rachel Maddow said, "It seemed like Mitt Romney wanted to get booed at the NAACP this morning." She explained, "He wanted to wear that around his neck like a badge of courage. It looks like he is not wasting any time in doing so." Later on MSNBC, Lawrence O'Donnell suggested that the Romney campaign intended to get booed so that the video could play "in certain racist precincts where that will actually help them."

Guest Goldie Taylor agreed, and went a step further, pointing to Romney's seemingly saying that black voters should support Obama if they're so fond of government handouts. "That tells me all I need to know about Mitt Romney, who at first I believed was just disconnected," said Taylor. "Now I know his problem is much bigger than that." Similarly, Daily Kos wrote that Romney used "racist rhetoric," and Mediaite accused Romney of making a "naked appeal to the 'welfare queen' brand of racial and class resentment."

It's entirely possible that Romney only spoke before the NAACP so he could brag to his base about staying true to his principles before a tough crowd, but telling those who want "free stuff" to vote for Obama is actually something he's done repeatedly in front of people of all races, creeds, and colors. In March he told a young woman who said she wanted free birth control, "If you're looking for free stuff you don't have to pay for, vote for the other guy. That's what he's all about." That same month he said at a rally in Atlanta, "I'm not going to be promising you all sorts of free stuff. It doesn't take a leader to promise giveaways." And when speaking about student loans in May, Romney said Obama is going to promise "a lot of free stuff" to students who aren't as enthusiastic about him as they were in 2008. Appealing to people who hate free stuff may not be a wise strategy, but it's been a favorite Romney quip throughout the campaign, and race has nothing to do with it.