Mitt Romney’s much publicized appeal to the African-American community fell flat this morning, as the Republican nominee-to-be endured loud, repeated booing during his speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The opening words of Romney’s address played to tepid applause — the fact that his campaign bused in 200 supporters certainly helped — but the former Massachusetts governor lost the audience the moment he attacked President Barack Obama’s health care reform.
“Our high level of debt slows GDP growth and that means fewer jobs. If our goal is jobs, we must, must stop spending over a trillion dollars more than we earn,” Romney said. “To do this, I will eliminate expensive, non-essential programs like Obamacare.”
That line didn’t go over well, to put it gently.
Considering that people of color — who are significantly more likely to lack health insurance than whites — stand to benefit most from the Affordable Care Act, Romney should not have been surprised by the crowd’s angry reaction.
Romney responded to the catcalls by citing a notoriously unreliable Chamber of Commerce survey, which claimed to provate that Obamacare makes business owners less likely to hire new workers, but it was clear that he had permanently lost his listeners.
Later in the speech, the NAACP members booed Romney again when he claimed that “if you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you’re looking at him.”
Making matters worse, some in the crowd actually responded to his claim with laughter.
Aside from the open booing, there were several other bad moments in Romney’s speech. Taking the stage while an organ played, Romney opened with the type of awkward pander that has become his trademark: “I do love that music. I have to tell you, I do love listening to that organ music.”
Soon Romney claimed that he hopes “to represent all Americans, of every race, creed or sexual orientation,” only to later pledge to “defend traditional marriage.” With this glaring contradiction, he also seemed to overlook the fact that the NAACP endorsed marriage equality in May.
“The rich will do just fine whether I am elected or not,” said Romney — a remark that directly undercuts his repeated warnings that allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for those making more than $250,000 a year would cripple so-called “job creators.”
His assertion that “in campaigns at their best, voters can expect a clear choice” also raised eyebrows considering that Romney’s campaign has been historically vague. He has not named a single tax loophole or deduction that he would eliminate as part of his budget plan; he has taken no position on President Obama’s executive order halting the deportation of DREAM Act-eligible youth; he has not explained how he would replace the Affordable Care Act after repeal; and he has only released a single year of tax returns despite bipartisan calls to do more. Even in today’s speech he offered very few specific policy proposals.
The crowd’s frosty reception may have had something to do with Romney’s contentious personal relationship with the NAACP. As Mother Jones’ Adam Serwer points out, his only significant interaction with the group while he was governor was when the NAACP protested his decision to eliminate Massachusetts’ state office of affirmative action. Romney eventually relented under immense public pressure.
“I felt that the governor was out of touch,” Leonard Alkins, the head of the NAACP’s Boston chapter at the time told the Associated Press. “He was very uncomfortable with the issue of race and how you would address issues such as affirmative action.”
Romney’s latest attempt to reach out to the African-American community was certainly better than his most famous effort — when he awkwardly asked “who let the dogs out?” at a Martin Luther King day parade — but overall it represented one of the weakest speeches in Romney’s campaign, despite the polite ovations he got for his effort.
Watch Romney’s full speech below: