Mitt Romney campaigns in Salt Lake City. (Charles Dharapak / Associated…)
In his first sit-down interview after news of a secretly recorded videotape shook the campaign of the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney told Fox News that he had not meant to write off nearly half the electorate as income tax deadbeats who consider themselves “victims” and would never vote for him.
During what was intended to be a private chat with Republican donors in May, he said, he was merely stating the fact that half of the closely divided electorate supports the president’s “more European than American” views.
Speaking from Salt Lake City, Romney did not apologize for telling those wealthy donors that the 47% of voters who support Obama are people “who are dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it.”
Instead, he told Fox’s Neal Cavuto, those voters are drawn to the president because Obama believes in wealth “redistribution.”
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“There’s a tape that just came out today with the president saying he likes redistribution,” Romney said during the eight-minute interview. “I disagree.”
The former Massachusetts governor was referring to an audio clip posted on YouTube and disseminated by the Drudge Report. The 96-second clip, identified only as coming from an Oct. 19, 1998, conference at Loyola University, features the distinctive voice of Obama, who was an Illinois state senator in 1998. The context is unclear, but it appears to be his concluding remarks after a talk about government policy and the “working poor.”
In the brief clip, Obama says at one point, “We’re all in this thing together, leave nobody behind.” Then he says, “My suggestion would be the trick … is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pull resources and hence facilitate some redistribution because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody’s got a shot.”
Romney seized on the clip to deflect attention from his headline-grabbing statements about Obama voters and victimization, and to demonstrate his deep philosophical differences with the president.
“I think a society based upon a government-centered nation, where government plays a larger and larger role, redistributes money, that’s the wrong course for America,” he said. “I believe the right course for America is one where government steps up to help those that are in need; we are a compassionate people, but then we let people build their own lives, create enterprises….The right course for America is to create growth, create wealth, not to redistribute wealth.”
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(The redistribution issue has come up before for Obama. In 2008, his chance encounter with an Ohio plumber named Samuel “Joe” Wurzelbacher provided the fodder for Republican claims that Obama embraced tenets of socialism. “I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody,” Obama told Wurzelbacher nearly four years ago. Later on the debate stage, Obama’s opponent, Arizona Sen. John McCain, used the incident with “Joe the Plumber” as evidence of Obama’s antipathy toward capitalism.)
During Tuesday’s interview with Fox, Cavuto pressed Romney on his explanation Monday at a hastily called news conference about the fundraiser remarks. “You said that your wording might have been inelegant, but others said that you just kissed half the electorate goodbye … that you all but called them moochers. Did you?”
“No,” replied Romney. “I am talking about a perspective of individuals who I am not likely to get to support me. I recognize that those people who are not paying income tax are gonna say, gosh, this provision that Mitt keeps talking about, lowering income taxes, that’s not gonna be real attractive to them. And those that are dependent upon government and those that think government’s job is to redistribute, I’m not gonna get them. I know there’s a divide in the country about that view. I know some believe that that government should take from some to give to the others. I think the president makes it clear in a tape that was released today that that’s what he believes. I think that’s an entirely foreign concept.”
Later, he pressed the argument that the country is on the wrong track with Obama, but that a significant portion of the electorate is on the same page with the president.
“The president is borrowing about a trillion more than we’re taking in every year. It’s a pathway that looks more European than American, in my view, and it’s one that I know some Americans are drawn to,” Romney said. “I think they’re wrong.”
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