Did Romney want to get booed?

Nancy Pelosi says the candidate wanted to get booed at the NAACP. Why she might be right

Topics: Mitt Romney, Nancy Pelosi, NAACP, Race,

The big news out of Mitt Romney’s speech yesterday at the NAACP was that the audience booed his pledge to repeal “Obamacare.” The jeers have been cast as a rude slight against a candidate making a good-faith effort to step outside his comfort zone and appeal to a skeptical audience, but what if Romney went to Houston intending to spark boos all along?

That’s what some top Democrats are alleging. “I think it was a calculated move on his part to get booed at the NAACP convention,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told Bloomberg TV yesterday in an interview.

Romney himself hinted at this in an interview with Fox News after the event, saying he anticipated all along that he’d get booed. “I think we expected that, of course,” he told host Neil Cavuto. Democratic strategist Kombiz Lavasany suggested “Romney’s press staff was bragging about getting booed,” noting that his traveling press secretary had retweeted multiple news stories about the incident.

Pelosi didn’t elaborate, but she’s not alone. “I believe he included that part of the speech intentionally,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said on a conference call organized by the Democratic National Committee. “He wasn’t speaking to the NAACP audience at all … [but] to his base. It will make him look strong.” Rev. Al Sharpton told MSNBC’s Tamron Hall, “I think that what was interesting to me is, I think it was calculated, Tamron, that he was going to attack the president’s Affordable Health Care Act, call it ‘Obamacare’ and expect that he would get some kind of displeasure from the audience.” Avis Jones-DeWeever, the executive director of the National Council of Negro Women, said Romney had accomplished a “calculated political ploy.” “That was exactly what he went there intending to do,” she said.



Some conservatives are already seeing the boos as a political win. Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin commented, “It was nice to see Romney not give into the temptation to leave out things he knew would be surefire boo-bird magnets and subsequent MSM takeaways, such as this pledge to repeal Obamacare.”

Indeed, Romney was probably never going to win many votes from the crowd at the NAACP, so his intended audiences may have been outside the convention hall. First, the  fact that he gave the speech at all could have been an attempt to assuage independent voters concerned about Romney’s hard-right drift in the Republican primary. Perhaps more important,  the boos could appeal to the conservative GOP base. “The boos are particularly helpful in building ties with conservatives who prize constancy in the face of opposition among all political attributes and who have specific concerns about Romney’s commitment to repealing the president’s health care plan,” Slate’s John Dickerson noted.

The boos may also appeal to darker elements in the conservative base who tend to see things through a racial lens. Indeed, Romney’s response to the boos echoed Newt Gingrich’s racially tinged language on food stamps during the GOP primary. Romney said he would “remind” his NAACP critics that “if they want more stuff from government, tell them to go vote for the other guy — more free stuff.” Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, as he is wont to do, had no hesitancy going straight for the white grievance card: He was booed “simply because Romney’s white,” Limbaugh explained.

Alex Seitz-Wald

Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at aseitz-wald@salon.com, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.

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