RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. When "Mother Jones" magazine released a videotape of Mitt Romney saying almost half the country favored President Obama because they didn't pay income taxes and felt they were victims, and entitled - among other things - the response was immediate. Many Republicans joined Democrats in saying Romney wildly misread and misdescribed the country.
Erick Erickson, of the blog RedState, has criticized Romney in the past but had a different reaction. On Twitter, he wrote: "Seeing these undercover videos actually makes me wish Romney would talk more about this issue on the trail." Erick Erickson is on the line from his home in Macon, Georgia.
Welcome to the program.
ERICK ERICKSON: Thanks for having me.
INSKEEP: What did you like about what you saw in that video?
ERICKSON: Well, look, I think he badly jumbled things up. As he said in his press conference, he was speaking off the cuff and really, I guess, conflated some things together. But I like the fact that he's tackling this issue. He's been very, very shallow on the campaign trail, on policy. And here, he is actually talking about entitlement, the growth of government dependency. The number of people now is astronomical, needing government help. And largely, I think, Republicans could - he could equate it to a lot of Barack Obama's policies, so...
INSKEEP: Although, let's just try to figure out what the facts are here because he had to build this gigantic straw man in order to knock it down. That's what he's been criticized for; that he had to conflate a lot of different problems together in order to create one, big problem. What really is the problem that you can say, on a factual basis; that everyone can agree on; is a problem?
ERICKSON: The number of people who are on government dependency right now, particularly the food stamp program, has gone through the roof. The number of people who are out of the workforce has gone through the roof. The problem for Mitt Romney is, he was talking about two different numbers that are the same. And he, in the process, merged them together.
There are, in fact - as Barack Obama said on "David Letterman," about his situation - there are 47 percent of people in the nation who will vote for Barack Obama; 47 percent who will vote for Mitt Romney. And Mitt Romney was trying to say that he's got to focus on the people in between - in the gap - to get to them.
The problem was, he pivoted immediately and started talking about, there's also 47 percent of people in the nation who don't pay income taxes. And he merged the two of them together. I really don't think he intended to merge them together. But I don't think it hurts him as much as a lot of people say.
INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about that fact, about that concern, because it is widespread. We heard earlier in the program about how this is a longstanding concern of conservatives; that so many people may pay other taxes, but they do not pay the income tax. We also had tape from President Ronald Reagan when he signed a bill, an earned income tax credit that caused a lot of people to stop paying income tax if they're on the lower end of the income scale. What's really wrong with that?
ERICKSON: Well, you know, it's very funny how - one of the talking points that Democrats use repeatedly, is that Republicans cut taxes for the rich, not for the middle class. But in reality, the Republicans, every time they do a tax cut, they take more and more people out of paying taxes. And...
ERICKSON: ...at some point, it does become a problem; that - when you have too few people paying in, and very many people taking out.
INSKEEP: And then why is that something to lay at the feet of Democrats?
ERICKSON: Well, it's something to lay at the feet of Democrats now because the way Barack Obama has been campaigning on the campaign trail, is he wants to increase taxes dramatically at the top, going back to Bill Clinton's tax rates, but he doesn't want to go back to Bill Clinton's spending rates.
If Barack Obama were to get his way and raise taxes on people making $250,000 a year or more, he still wouldn't close this year's budget deficit, let alone the national debt. And unfortunately for Romney, he hasn't even - in that off-the-record, off-the-cuff statement - hasn't been able to articulate those points. And frankly, I think he needs to now own this statement, articulate it better than he did at that dinner, and actually now have a substantive policy on entitlement reform.
INSKEEP: Let me ask one other thing, Erick Erickson. For all that he was considered divisive, I can remember George W. Bush, when he was first running for president, explicitly appealing for the votes of Democrats; explicitly appealing for the votes of Latinos; explicitly asking for lots of different kinds of people - people who were interested in education, public school parents - to support him.
INSKEEP: What do you think about Romney saying in this statement: Well, almost half the country is hopeless. I have to write them off politically.
ERICKSON: Well, you know, look, there's a difference between running for president, and running for office. And it really is - whether you like it or not - it is a political reality that even Barack Obama mentioned on the "David Letterman" show. Forty-seven percent of people will vote Democrat; 47 percent of people will vote Republican.
When you're running for president, it's not worth your time trying to go out and campaign to people who guaranteed, positively will not vote for you. You've got to go focus on those people in the gap, who can be persuaded. It's a political reality that politicians rarely talk about. But you know, we always lament, politicians are too guarded and don't say what they mean, and don't speak honestly. Well, here he was - and now, we're beating him up for it.
INSKEEP: Erick Erickson, let me let you get back and get another cup of coffee.
ERICKSON: Thanks very much.
INSKEEP: Thank you very much. Erick Erickson is editor of RedState.com. He's in Macon, Georgia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.