Mitt Romney greets his audience at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce… (Mark Boster, Los Angeles…)
Mitt Romney's presidential bid, already pushing back against suggestions that he was losing ground to President Obama, confronted more difficulty Monday when a secretly taped video showed him describing nearly half the nation's population as "dependent on government" and unwilling to take responsibility for their lives.
The comments were made at a private fundraiser this year and published Monday by the news organization Mother Jones. In the video, whose authenticity Romney did not dispute, the Republican nominee told donors that he didn't need to worry about Obama's supporters because they relied on government services and paid no income tax.
"There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47% 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 healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it," Romney said in the video.
"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."
PHOTOS: Mitt Romney on the campaign trail
Romney said he would focus on nonaligned voters and not on Obama supporters.
"[M]y job is not to worry about those people," Romney said in the video. "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
At a hastily called news conference Monday night in Costa Mesa, where he was holding a fundraiser, Romney said that he had chosen his words poorly but he did not back away from their substance.
"It's not elegantly stated, let me put it that way," he said, adding that "it's a message which I'm going to carry and continue to carry — which is, look, the president's approach is attractive to people who are not paying taxes because, frankly, my discussion about lowering taxes isn't as attractive to them, and therefore I'm not likely to draw them into my campaign as effectively as those who are in the middle."
Obama's campaign called the statement "shocking" and said Romney had slandered needy Americans, among others.
"It's hard to serve as president for all Americans when you've disdainfully written off half the nation," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said.
The comments threatened the former Massachusetts governor's effort on at least two fronts. They ran counter to Romney's argument that he is sympathetic to Americans who have suffered persistently high unemployment under Obama.
And they placed Romney, a wealthy former venture capitalist, in the position of appearing to belittle those with far fewer financial resources than he enjoys.
His argument that nearly half of the American population pays no income taxes is accurate, but it does not note that many pay other taxes, including the federal payroll tax and state and local taxes. Most of those who pay no taxes are destitute, disabled or elderly. (Romney too has been criticized for paying far less in taxes, as a percentage of his income, than many middle-class workers because most of his income derives from investments, which are taxed at a lower rate than earnings.)
INTERACTIVE: Battleground states map
The video was released at an already fraught time, amid news articles detailing internal dissent among Romney's top advisors and questions about the effectiveness of his economic message.
Romney and his advisors had said that he would not offer many specifics to avoid giving his rivals ammunition. On Monday morning, after a weekend of leaked grievances by his top advisors, campaign officials reversed field and told reporters that Romney would begin offering new details about tax and economic policy.
"We think the American people are looking forward to hearing how we can turn our economy around; they're open to hearing our proposals on this front," Romney senior advisor Ed Gillespie said.
Hours later, Romney addressed 1,400 people at a Los Angeles conference of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, promising to cut federal spending, help small businesses and reform a "broken" immigration system. But he offered no new details on how he would accomplish those goals, and he declined to say what he would do about the 12 million people living in the nation illegally, a key concern among Latino voters.
Instead, Romney argued that Latinos had been particularly hurt by Obama's economic policies, reeled off a list of Latino politicians who are Republicans and reiterated that as president he would create jobs.
The lack of specificity was noted by some of those in attendance.
"I would have loved to hear a little more detail about how he plans to help American businesses, but I understand he had limited time," said Javier Palomarez, chief executive of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.