Romney Says He's 'Completely Wrong' About 47 Percent. That's News to Some Pundits

In opinion journalism, there are certain moments that separate the reasonable voices from the party hacks. Governor Mitt Romney’s statement to Sean Hannity last night that “I said something that’s just completely wrong,” when he made his infamous remarks on the 47 percent provides such an occasion for a little Monday morning quarterbacking.

You’ll recall that when Mother Jones released footage of Romney suggesting that 47 percent of the country will vote for Obama because they “believe that they are victims,” a whole bunch of people ruled this a) bad politics and b) factually incorrect. It’s generally a bad sign when Karl Rove doesn’t even bother spinning, instead saying Romney should “be careful” with talk like that. Throughout the ranks of right-leaning opinion journalism were voices who made the case that Romney’s comments made no sense when one looked at the makeup of the “47 percent” who he condemned as moochers. Bill Kristol, of the Weekly Standard, called them “arrogant and stupid.” Peggy Noonan at the Wall Street Journal said “Romney’s theory of the case is all wrong.”

Still, Romney defended his comments, saying they were “not elegantly stated” but represented a message he would continue to tout. And so, out came those who would defend their candidate, right or wrong:

• Fox News’s Sean Hannity is probably left feeling the most awkward. A day after the video’s release, he said, “Let’s break down what you just heard. Because everything that Governor Romney said, is 100 percent accurate.” Romney then said he was “completely wrong” on Hannity’s show.

The Herald‘s Howie Carr, as always, serves as a useful example. Carr did point out some of the problems with Romney’s math, but called those calculations “his only problem,” without mentioning that the “only problem” made up 40 percent of the people Romney had maligned. Then to make Romney’s philosophy sound more historically supported, he misattributed a made-up quotation to Alexis de Tocqueville. But that’s Howie Carr: making up quotes to defend Romney for comments Romney will no longer defend.

• Still, Carr looked relatively reasonable next to Fox News pundit Dick Morris, who wrote, “There is no sin greater in a presidential race than telling the truth. Romney is being excoriated for accurately describing the situation in America today.” He only wished Romney had said all this in a public speech, not a private fundraiser.

• Michelle Malkin tweeted, “This election is about America’s makers vs. America’s takers. Romney should NEVER be defensive or apologetic about making that clear.” (So far, no word from her in the wake of Romney’s back-track, but we’re betting she’ll forgive him.)

• Erick Erickson runs the blog RedState, where he helped propagate the idea of the 47 percent that Mitt Romney seems to have borrowed at his peril. Unsurprisingly, Erickson was in support.

Romney, of course, has begun his long predicted shift to present himself in more moderate tones, beginning with his very well-received debate performance (in which he actually brought up Massachusetts several times.) He continued it Thursday on Fox, where he was asked how he would have defended them had Obama remembered to bring them up, and he responded:

“Well, clearly in a campaign, with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you’re going to say something that doesn’t come out right. In this case, I said something that’s just completely wrong.”

Why do we bring this up, other than to point out that some opinion journalists are intellectually honest and some are bankrupt? Jonathan Chait, a liberal writer at New York magazine, his written well about the difference between being ideological and being partisan. If you are ideological, as in, you serve a political viewpoint rather than a political party, “It’s important to hold the party you agree with to account when it fails to stand for the right principles.” If you find yourself defending your candidate even when he says stuff so obviously indefensible that your candidate himself calls it “completely wrong,” well, then you’ve got a problem. Republican pundits who thought they’d do Romney a favor by making the case for his 47 percent remarks should have known better. Sometimes the best way to help your guy is to tell him when he’s doing it wrong. Good on Romney to ignore those who refused.