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Three Things We Learned from the Secret Romney Video

It’s official: Mitt Romney does not want the votes of 47 percent of the electorate. Or so the Republican presidential candidate says in a videotape shot at a fundraiser and obtained by Mother Jones. In the recording, Romney breaks down the election in Randian terms before an audience of affluent GOP donors: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” Romney says, explaining that nearly half of the electorate is made up of people “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” And, Romney says, “I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Assuming the recording is authentic, his words could turn out to be the former Massachusetts governor’s version of Barack Obama’s 2008 “cling” comments. But once you get past being shocked by the candidate’s derisive view of his fellow citizens, the off-the-record, invitation-only peek into Romney offers a few other revelations, less incendiary but also interesting. Among them:

1) Romney Really Doesn’t Want to Talk Specifics

When pressed in public for specifics about his policies—how, say, he would cut the deficit or replace Obamacare—Romney usually tells voters to read his book Believe in America: Mitt Romney’s Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth. (Available only on Kindle.) He says the same thing in the video, but also wanders into a description of 2008 that suggests a different view on policy. “This president won because of ‘hope and change,’” he says, using a line Republicans often use to slam denigrate Barack Obama. The candid Romney in this video seems to actually believe it, which might explain why his acceptance speech at the RNC contained a mere 180 words describing his jobs plan in the broadest terms possible. “In a setting like this, a highly intellectual subject—discussion on a whole series of important topics typically doesn’t win elections,” he tells the donors. Romney still may want to consider hedging his bets with a few details, just in case a stray voter actually does care. After all, an ABC poll released last week found that 63% of voters believe Romney has not been specific enough about his policy plans.

2) Romney doesn’t have a very good sense of the actual GOP electorate

If Romney had taken a look at the numbers, he might not have been so quick to write off that 47%. There aren’t statistics on which party’s voters are more dependent on the federal government, but a recent Pew Research survey shows that both Democrats and Republicans have surprisingly similar educational and income profiles:

The small subsample of households that pay neither income nor payroll taxes are split between seniors and very poor families making less than $20,000 per year. And many of these non-paying voters live in states Romney is counting on in November: According to the Tax Foundation, nine of the ten states with the highest percentage of non-paying citizens are in the South or Southwest.

3) Romney Is Actually a Charismatic Speaker—When He’s Talking to His Kind of People

You know that awkward, fumbling Romney you see almost every time you watch a video clip from the campaign? He’s missing from this video. In front of an audience of his fellow deep-pocketed types, it seems, the socially awkward Republican standard-bearer is magically replaced with a confident-sounding, affable, skillful public speaker. So if he were to get elected, it would provide an extra incentive for him to make sure his economic plans are adopted by Congress: More plutocrats among the population means more settings in which Romney sounds comfortable—which, in turn, means a smaller chance of President Romney being done in by the kinds of gaffes that have troubled his 2012 campaign.