Romney reframes remarks as he tries to regain footing
Mitt Romney attempts to find some benefit in the political furor after the disclosure of statements he made in which he said nearly half of Americans pay no income taxes and are dependent on government.
The New York Times
Mitt Romney on Tuesday fully embraced the substance of his secretly recorded comments that 47 percent of Americans are too dependent on government, saying that his views helped define the philosophical choice for voters in his campaign against President Obama.
"The president's view is one of a larger government; I disagree," Romney told Fox News. "I think a society based on a government-centered nation where government plays a larger and larger role, redistributes money, that's the wrong course for America."
The comments were Romney's attempt to find some benefit in the political furor after the disclosure of statements he made at a closed fundraiser in Florida in May, where he spoke of nearly half of Americans who pay no federal income taxes and, in his analysis, would never vote for him.
Those are people, he said at the fundraiser, who are "dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them."
Romney, who on Monday called the remarks "inelegant," suggested Tuesday it was time for a full debate about dependency, entitlements and what his campaign characterized as a long history of Obama's support for "redistributionist" policies.
But despite the effort by Romney to take the offensive, his campaign spent the day working to keep the episode from becoming a turning point and trying to minimize the damage from the disclosure of another set of remarks from the fundraiser, in which he suggested that a two-state solution for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians — longstanding United States policy — was not feasible.
Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, told KRNV-TV in Reno, Nev., "The point we're trying to make here is, under the Obama economy, government dependency is up and economic stagnation is up."
But the developments gave Democrats new ammunition to make their case that Romney is out of touch with the needs and values of the middle class and does not understand the economic forces at work in many families.
It also left some Republicans distancing themselves. And it forced the Romney campaign to adopt a new message just a day after starting an ad campaign built around different themes, as officials closely monitored whether donors were growing more nervous about the management of Romney's candidacy and his prospects in November.
In an appearance on "Late Show" with David Letterman, Obama accused Romney of "writing off a big chunk of the country" and said it would be wrong for a politician to "suggest that because someone doesn't agree with me that they're victims or they're unpatriotic."
Two Republican Senate candidates in hard-fought races in the Democratic territory of the Northeast, Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Linda McMahon of Connecticut, disavowed the remarks.
"Not the way I view the world," Brown said; "I disagree," McMahon said.
Two advisers, speaking on condition of anonymity in separate interviews, expressed frustration that the comments at the fundraiser — held at the Boca Raton, Fla., home of the financier Marc Leder — played into the image that Democrats have promoted all year of Romney as uncaring about average voters and concerned only about himself and his wealthy friends.
Mother Jones, the liberal magazine that posted the video on its website Monday, has been mum on identifying who shot it at the $50,000-a-person affair at Leder's six-bedroom, nine-bath house in the gated Long Lake Estates community in unincorporated Palm Beach County. Leder is part owner of the Philadelphia 76ers NBA basketball team and co-chief executive of Sun Capital Partners. The private investment firm is focused on leveraged buyouts and other investments — the way Romney amassed his fortune at Bain Capital.
Sun Capital's portfolio includes more than 70 companies, many of which are household names: Boston Market, Smokey Bones, Gerber Childrenswear, Hickory Farms, The Limited, Friendly's.
Federal Election Commission filings show Leder has given more than $140,000 in the past eight years, mostly to Republican causes, but also to a smattering of Democrats. He also has given $225,000 to Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Romney.
James Carter IV, 35, of Atlanta, the grandson of former President Carter and a self-fashioned Democratic opposition researcher, tracked down the video from a clip on YouTube. David Corn, a journalist with Mother Jones, posted the clips to his magazine's website Monday.
"James: This is extraordinary. Congratulations! Papa," the former president told his grandson Tuesday morning in an email obtained by the AP.
Romney has spent many months assailing the elder Carter's record on everything from foreign affairs to small-business policy, hoping to saddle the incumbent president with the less popular vestiges of his Democratic predecessor.
The magazine released the entire tape Tuesday. Romney's campaign organized back-to-back conference calls to reassure donors, featuring a coterie of top advisers — Matt Rhoades, the campaign manager; Spencer Zwick, the finance director; and Beth Myers and Ed Gillespie, both senior advisers. One of the calls, with Romney's national finance committee, was moved up from its usually scheduled time near the end of the week, and on the second, larger donor call, the campaign urged the donors to "have at it."
Romney's aides said that they were keeping perspective in a way that the news-media "feeding frenzy" was not. A Gallup daily tracking poll that had shown Obama with a growing edge after the Democratic convention effectively had the race as a tie Tuesday, though an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday night showed the president with more of an edge and with his approval rating reaching the 50-percent mark.
In the video Romney also questioned the viability of a two-state solution to the Israel Palestinian dispute, a longtime staple of official U.S. policy, saying Palestinians don't want peace, according to a video released Tuesday.
Saying that he was "torn" over the matter, Romney said he has long been concerned "that the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish," according to the recording.
The Obama administration favors a two-state solution with Israel and a future Palestine. But it says Palestinian statehood can only come about through a negotiated agreement between the parties, not through the United Nations.
Palestinian lawmaker and scholar Hanan Ashrawi accused Romney of "destroying the chances for peace" and called his remarks "irresponsible and dangerous and both ignorant and prejudiced."
The videos were the latest troubles for Romney's campaign, which has tried to focus attention on a weak economic recovery and make the case that the Republican's business background would help spur the economy.
In recent weeks, the campaign has dealt with the fallout from Clint Eastwood's rambling conversation with a chair at the Republican convention and Romney's omission of the war in Afghanistan or thanks to the troops in his prime-time convention speech.
The eruption of violence in Egypt and Libya last week prompted Romney to issue a statement assailing the Obama administration before it was known that an American ambassador and three other U.S. citizens had died in Libya, a move that generated criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike.
A series of polls have shown Obama with an edge nationally and in key battleground states, leading Republicans to implore Romney to give voters more specifics on how he would govern. The new approach aims to improve Romney's standing in the lead-up to the first presidential debate Oct. 3.
Includes material from The Associated Press