If you want to see why Mitt Romney is on track to become the next Republican nominee for President, you should watch the stump speech he just delivered at the Iowa State Fair. He was electric, passionate, focused and having fun, all words that few would have used to describe Romney the last time he appeared at the state fair in August of 2007. But that doesn’t mean he got out of the event unscathed.
His political opponents had filled the crowd with hostile questioners who badgered Romney about his approach to entitlements. Romney mostly handled the unruly interlopers well, letting them speak and then laying out his positions. But then he let it get away from him, offering a soundbite that, while factually true, is almost certain to play in future Democratic attacks on Romney.
“Corporations are people, my friend,” Romney said, when a heckler called for raising their taxes. “Of course they are. Everything corporations earn eventually go to people. Where do you think it goes? Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People’s pockets. Human beings.”
It took the Democratic National Committee less than an hour to respond. “This is what Mitt Romney is going to run on? Corporations are people? Really?” wrote Brad Woodhouse, the DNC’s spokesman. “There’s a great message for people struggling to get by and trying to make ends meet. Don’t complain – corporations are people too!”
Of course, in politics the biggest flubs are the true ones. As a legal matter, corporations are people. And their profits do eventually go to people, though not the same people that most Americans identify themselves with. When Romney made the comments, he was at the end of making a well constructed point about entitlement spending.
“If we are ultimately, not just this year, but over the coming decades, going to be able to balance our budget and not spend more than we take in,” he said, “we have to make sure that the promises we make on Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare are promises we can keep. And there are various ways of doing that. One is we could raise taxes on people.”
At that point, a heckler called out, “Corporations! Corporations!”
That’s when Romney asserted that “corporations are people.” Then he got into a bit of a back and forth with the crowd which yielded the quotes above. You can watch the entire appearance at Cspan.org.
Immediately after the appearance, Romney did what all great Presidential contenders do. He waded through the crowd to the Pork tent, so he could flip meat before the cameras.
UPDATE: Just minutes after Woodhouse’s e-mail broadside, Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney’s press guru, defended his boss via Twitter: “Do folks think corporations are buildings? They’re people who incorporate to conduct business. They create jobs and hire more people.”