Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: For debating Republicans, it’s like Mitt Romney never happened

Mitt Romney at a rally in Miami during his campaign for the presidency in 2012.
Mitt Romney at a rally in Miami during his campaign for the presidency in 2012. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Remember Mitt Romney’s secretly recorded “47 percent” ramble? His presidential campaign’s unscripted this-is-how-I-really-feel moment?

Forty-seven was the percentage of American voters the Republican candidate had estimated he could put out of mind because those people — African-Americans, Latinos and other minorities, not to mention the poor and disadvantaged —simply weren’t going to vote for him.

They were President Barack Obama’s kind of voters — and Romney went on to demean and characterize swaths of American society as freeloaders who don’t take responsibility for their lives:

“There are 47 percent who are with him, 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. That, that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…. These are people who pay no income tax.... [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Romney’s callous dismissal undercut his candidacy.

It was the proverbial nail in the coffin of a campaign already marked by another flop, when Romney said in Tampa that his solution to the limbo status of 11 million undocumented people in the country was that they “self deport.” Made his “Juntos con [Together with] Romney” slogan ring as false as it was.

Flash-forward to the 2015 Republican primary campaign: It’s remarkable how soon people blinded by the fear and ignorance that characterizes disdain for immigrants and minority populations forget a presidential election only one cycle away.

Republicans are still echoing Romney’s exclusionary message — only now they don’t care who videotapes what they really, really think. There’s no need for the anonymous Democrat in the room to secretly record anymore.

They shout it out on prime time TV. The Wall! The Wall!

Front-runner Donald Trump can’t let go of his verbal aggression against immigrants. Even if instead of Mexico, he conjures for some of us 47 per centers East/West Berlin — leave it to fascists and communists to think that walls, and not bridges, are solutions. Even when he’s slipping in the polls to the soft-spoken Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who’s clueless about how to govern but thinks God will provide the tools.

Trump couldn’t be more blatantly dismissive and offensive, yet Republicans applaud his mass-deportation ideas and he hangs in there when more grounded and experienced candidates like Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush fall farther behind in the polls.

The more I watch the Republicans debate, the clearer I see Hillary Clinton strolling a ready-made path to the presidency.

The debating GOP candidates feel as comfortable dismissing and offending sectors of the population as Romney, the corporate raider, did campaigning among his rich, black-tie suited supporters in Palm Beach.

And so, Romney’s 47 percent watches the 2016 slate of Republicans, smiling.