by Jules Witcover

Mitt Romney, who made quite a splash with his post-election allegation that President Obama beat him by bribing voters with "gifts" of federal largesse, himself gave a gift to both the opposition and his own party by saying so.

Apparently unwittingly, he acknowledged that he sees the social safety net -- for years the embodiment of the nation's conscience in aiding its poor, ill and elderly -- as just another handout to the undeserving.

His critics could not have made a better case that Romney is as an out-of-touch rich guy. No wonder major Republican political figures lined up to denounce him and write off any future for him in the party.

Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Chris Christie of New Jersey and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina responded with a mixture of incredulity and chagrin at Romney's simplistic excuse for losing a race the party thought was his for the taking.

At the same time, Romney's latest remarks, coupled with his dismissal during the campaign of "47 percent of Americans" as moochers at the federal trough, were a wake-up call to fellow Republicans to get off their tiresome "class warfare" rant.

In a domestic climate that reeks of economic inequality, with the wealthiest Americans benefiting from colossal tax breaks on both regular income and capital gains from investments, that old Republican lament was long ago rendered hollow.

Speaking, as Romney did, of "extraordinary financial gifts from the government" -- referring to limited college loan forgiveness and free contraceptives and care under the hated "Obamacare" -- was a bit much coming at a time when his party was clinging to the Bush tax cuts for the 2 percent of the wealthiest Americans, which Obama wants to end this year.

If the outcome of the presidential election is not enough to bestir Republicans to re-examine the image Romney projected of the GOP as the party of white, male America, then the racial, ethnic and gender breakdown of the vote should be particularly instructive. Hispanic, Asian and African Americans flocked to Obama in excess of 70 percent, along with substantial majorities of females and the young.

None of this can be very helpful to the Republican brand as a lame-duck session of Congress approaches to tackle the threat of the so-called fiscal cliff, the huge budget cuts to social and defense programs that will be triggered unless Congress and the president can strike a deal.

House Speaker John Boehner has indicated he is willing to compromise on providing some of the new revenues the Democrats want in exchange for unspecified cuts in federal entitlement spending, but he has continued to resist dropping the tax cuts to the rich that Obama has insisted upon. Inasmuch as that argument was at the center of the presidential campaign and the president won, Boehner may be holding a small pair in the poker game.

Democrats are well positioned now to argue that the voters have spoken on the issue and want no more of the stalemate of the last two years. The Republicans, still in control of the House, will largely be assigned the blame if the country goes over the fiscal cliff. The last time Congress and the administration approached a budget crisis, in the summer of 2011, a "grand bargain" between Obama and Boehner failed, with dispute over which side had blinked.

This time around, much may depend on Obama's seemingly stiffened spine and the influence of the election returns on Boehner's troublesome tea-party hard-liners. In all this, Mitt Romney is on the sidelines licking his wounds -- not all of them having been administered by Democrats.

A losing presidential nominee seldom has any say in post-election politics. But in Romney's case, his voice will be particularly irrelevant, in considerable part because of his ill-timed and ill-reasoned assessment of blame for his loss, rejected so emphatically among his own party's leaders.


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Mitt Romney's Own Gift | Politics

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