WASHINGTON — Many people think that high-dollar donors contribute to a candidate with the hope of hearing the politician’s views in a small, intimate setting. But it turns out, as the secretly taped video from a Mitt Romney fund-raiser in Florida shows, they don’t want to hear from the candidate so much as they want to give the candidate their own advice: what television shows he should do, how he should prepare for debates, or how he can best utilize his wife.
“My question is, why don’t you stick up for yourself?” one donor asked.
“Why isn’t someone saying, ‘Stop making pennies. Round it to the nearest nickel’?” another donor demanded. “That’s an easy thing, you know, compared to Iran.”
When Romney noted that he’s “not terribly well known,” a female donor chimed in, “You’re known as a rich boy.”
The video, which emerged in full Tuesday, has caused the Republican presidential candidate all types of problems for the comments he made that evening in May. But overlooked in the controversy is that the video provides a rare peek into the type of events that Romney has been holding almost nonstop since April — his schedule shows him interacting more frequently with high-dollar donors than with average voters.
And while Romney has been criticized for not talking specifics or in-depth policy, the video shows that he actually is — on what he thinks about Middle East peace, and what he makes of income inequality — but it’s just not often in public forums.
One Romney donor, asked about the uproar over the video, shrugged. These are things he’d heard many times, he said, at many Romney fund-raisers.
In exchange for tens of thousands of dollars, the candidate is expected to offer some behind-the-scenes detail. So during the Boca Raton, Fla., fund-raiser, Romney told his donors why his wife isn’t on the campaign trail more (out of concern people will tire of her). He is also seen trying to describe in raw percentage terms how he might win the White House.
In the only other instance where Romney was captured speaking candidly to donors, he also offered unvarnished views that he doesn’t allow average voters to hear.
In that case in April in Palm Beach, Fla., Romney said he would eliminate mortgage tax deductions on second homes, would consider downsizing the Department of Education, and might eliminate the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
But material from only two such fund-raisers has been aired publicly — and Romney has been raising money this way for months, sometimes doing three fund-raisers a day.
“I’m going to turn to you for counsel, advice, or questions,” Romney said on the Boca Raton video, as he stood at the head table and servers in tuxedoes poured wine. “Policy questions. Wanna talk about tax policy? Or — or political questions. How I win? Please.”
A female donor implored Romney to do more television — particularly daytime shows females may be watching. Romney noted that he had twice been on “The View.”
“ ‘The View’ is high risk because of the five women on it, only one is conservative and four are sharp tongued and not conservative — Whoopi Goldberg in particular,” he said. “Although last time I was on the show she said, ‘You know what, I could vote for you.’ ”
He also noted he had done several late-night shows, but had avoided “Saturday Night Live” (saying the show “has the potential of looking slapstick and not presidential”).
“I’ve been on Letterman a couple of times. I’ve been on Leno more than a couple of times and now Letterman hates me because I’ve been on Leno more than him,” he said. “They’re very jealous of one another, as you know.”
Massachusetts figured in some exchanges. When he lamented that his father was born in Mexico to American parents — “Had he been born of Mexican parents, I’d have a better shot of winning this” — a female donor spoke up.
“You can pull an Elizabeth Warren,” she said.
Romney explained to the audience, “Elizabeth Warren, she’s the woman who’s running for US Senate in Massachusetts who said that she’s Cherokee.”
“It turns out that at most she’s 1/32d Cherokee,” Romney added. “And even that can’t be proven. So, at any event, I mean I could put down my dad was born in Mexico and leave it at that.”
At one point a donor said that she had called George H.W. Bush “years and years ago” when, she said, “he had helped me in my campaign in Massachusetts when I ran for Senate.” She said she had told Bush, “there’s a guy named Clinton who’s going to beat him for the following reasons.” Bush simply laughed, she said.
She was warning Romney not to fall into the same trap, telling him that women, Hispanics, and college students don’t want to vote for him and he had work to do.
Who is this former Massachusetts Senate candidate?
Her identity could not be determined. However, Lucile Hicks, a Republican, ran successfully for state Senate in Massachusetts in 1990 and at the time received a note of support from President Bush to mail to voters. According to Federal Election Commission records, she gave Romney $750 last year and $3,500 in July. Her husband has contributed $2,500. Hicks did not return a message to determine if she was at the fund-raiser.