Yes, Romney chose a relatively friendly venue for this exchange -- but Neil Cavuto didn't exactly let the GOP nominee off the hook by lobbing softballs. Nor did he badger Romney with sanctimonious scolding or apology trolling, a mindless mainstream media specialty. High marks for this interview:
In this case, the best defense is a good offense, so Romney mentioned the newly (and not coincidentally) released Obama "redistribution" audio within the first 30 seconds of his very first answer -- then revisited it a second time later. He's also smart to make clear that when he decries an expanding dependent class, he's not talking about members of the military or seniors who have paid into federal retirement benefits for their entire lives. The deeper problems Romney identifies are (a) too many Americans are unemployed and underemployed, and (b) President Obama's policies are actively and deliberately enabling a bigger, more bloated, more intrusive federal government that makes ever-larger promises, even as the nation's coffers run dry. He goes hard after the food stamps statistics to illustrate his point; as I wrote yesterday, there's a veritable buffet of additional examples he might also use. The money quote of the segment comes near the end when Romney addresses the idea that he's written off nearly half the country -- not just from an electoral standpoint, but based on some deeper lack of concern about their well-being:
"One hundred percent of Americans, in my view, will do much better if we have a government that lives by the model established by the founding fathers, and that was one based upon freedom and opportunity."
In essence, even the "Julias" of the world will benefit from a thriving, free society built on opportunity -- even if they aren't inclined to vote for it. Over the course of the conversation, Romney deftly managed to avoid getting bogged down untangling the minutiae of his overly broad and unfair characterizations of "the 47 percent." He instead steered the focus to jobs, deficits and the size, scope and role of the federal government. This is terrain where the fight can be won. Conservatives were hoping Romney would turn this news cycle-altering leaked clip into an opportunity to prosecute an ideological case against the president's policies. Based on his press conference Monday night and his chat on Fox last evening, it appears he's prepared to do just that -- at least long enough to weather the storm and forge ahead to whatever plans his campaign had in store before Mother Jones dropped this tape they've apparently been sitting on for four months.
UPDATE - "Eighteen charts showing the rise of government dependence."