By: Ginger Gibson
November 15, 2012 03:56 PM EST
A handful of prominent Republicans criticized Mitt Romney for his disparaging remarks about President Barack Obama’s “gifts” to core constituencies, saying that it was the wrong message to send voters as the party tries to rebuild itself after a bruising defeat.
“I don’t think it’s helpful,” Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad told POLITICO at the Republican Governors Association conference on Thursday. “I guess my feeling is that we need to turn the page, and we need to focus on the future and not make excuses for the past.”
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio — a prominent Romney backer during the campaign and a possible 2016 candidate — also distanced himself from the remarks on Thursday, calling them “an analysis to donors.”
Rubio said that as a party, “our mission should not be to deny government benefits to people who need them,” but the GOP should work to ensure “less people need government benefits.”
“I don’t want to rebut him point by point,” Rubio said of Romney. “I would just say to you, I don’t believe that we have millions and millions of people in this country that don’t want to work. I’m not saying that’s what [Romney] said. I think we have millions of people in this country that are out of work and are dependent on the government because they can’t find a job.”
The chorus of pushback from Republican officials grew louder this afternoon regarding Romney’s remarks on a donor conference call yesterday. The former GOP presidential nominee told donors that Obama had won reelection because of “gifts” to “especially the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people,” including loan programs for students and free contraceptives for women in Obama’s health care bill.
The criticism comes as the party is recovering from a thumping defeat in the presidential and Senate contests on Nov. 6. By all accounts, Romney and his team expected to win, and were stunned by higher-than-expected turnout among African-Americans and Latinos, who voted for Obama by huge margins. Romney’s camp underestimated the amount of Democrats that would ultimately turn out to vote and was overconfident about enthusiasm on its side.
In the wake of the elections, many commentators — including Republicans — have criticized Romney for turning off Hispanic voters with harsh language about self-deportation and not making an aggressive push to win that voting bloc, where he was creamed.
In Las Vegas to attend the RGA conference, Florida Gov. Rick Scott called Romney’s comments “inappropriate.”
“It’s wrong, it’s not true,” Scott told POLITICO, adding: “What we’ve got to do is say we want every vote, we want to take care of every citizen in our state.”
New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who campaigned frequently alongside Romney when he visited the Granite State, said she didn’t agree with Romney’s comments.
“The campaign is over and what the voters are looking for us to do is to accept their votes and go forward and we’ve got some big challenges that need to be solved,” Ayotte said on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports. “I don’t know the full context of them but I don’t agree with them.”
The increase in criticism of Romney’s remarks came after Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal offered a scathing critique of the comments on Wednesday.
“No, I think that’s absolutely wrong,” Jindal said at the RGA opening press conference in Las Vegas. “Two points on that: One, we have got to stop dividing the American voters. We need to go after 100 percent of the votes, not 53 percent. We need to go after every single vote.
“And, secondly, we need to continue to show how our policies help every voter out there achieve the American Dream, which is to be in the middle class, which is to be able to give their children an opportunity to be able to get a great education. … So, I absolutely reject that notion, that description. I think that’s absolutely wrong.”
Romney’s most recent remarks echoed his controversial “47 percent” statement during the campaign. Those comments were secretly videotaped during remarks to donors in Boca Raton this summer and depicted Romney saying that 47 percent of voters didn’t pay income taxes and weren’t going to vote for him because they were dependent on government benefits.
When the tape was made public by the liberal magazine Mother Jones, Romney faced staunch criticism from the left, particularly for the line in which he said he “wasn’t concerned” about those 47 percent.
Democrats used the video of him speaking in advertisements attacking the wealthy businessman for not being concerned about the middle-class.
After his loss to Obama, the GOP criticism of Romney for the “gifts” remarks is a departure from the Republican reaction when the 47 percent video surfaced during the heat of the campaign. At the time, many Republicans said Romney was speaking to a larger problem of entitlements and a culture of dependency. Others defended them as inelegant political explanations, not disparaging of any constituency groups.
Ayotte, at the time, called Romney’s remarks “political analysis” in defending the GOP nominee in a September appearance on “Meet the Press.”
“That certainly was a political analysis at a fundraiser, but it’s not a governing philosophy,” she said.
Rubio was also less critical of Romney when the 47 percent remarks were made, saying only that he wished the GOP nominee had phrased the remarks differently.