Mitt Romney may have delivered a major gift to the Obama reelection campaign in some classist comments that he didn't know were being taped — and that he himself conceded Monday were "not elegantly stated" and "off-the-cuff."
A secret video recording that was leaked to the liberal magazine Mother Jones shows Romney making some enlightening statements about his candidacy. Chief among them is a claim that 47 percent of the electorate are victims who depend on the government for handouts. That portion of the electorate will vote for President Barack Obama regardless of what he does, so he won't try to win them, he is heard to say.
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent 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 health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.
"And I mean the president starts off with 48, 49, 4--he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. So he'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich.
"I mean, that's what they sell ever (sic) four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is to convince the five to ten percent in the center that are independents, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy or not."
The Obama campaign seized on the comments, which the source who shot the video told NBC News were made at a $50,000-a-plate fundraiser on May 17 at the home of private equity titan Marc Leder in Boca Raton, Fla.
"It's shocking that a candidate for President of the United States would go behind closed doors and declare to a group of wealthy donors that half the American people view themselves as 'victims,' entitled to handouts, and are unwilling to take 'personal responsibility' for their lives. It's hard to serve as president for all Americans when you’ve disdainfully written off half the nation," read a statement from Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina.
Romney scrambled to respond to the sudden scrutiny with a news conference Monday night.
“It’s not elegantly stated, let me put it that way. I was speaking off-the-cuff in response to a question," he said, but he reiterated his belief that Obama's campaign relied upon voter dependency.
"Of course, I want to help all Americans, all Americans, have a bright and prosperous future," Romney said, and called for the release of the full video.
Those comments Monday night came after Romney's campaign issued a statement in reaction to the leak earlier in the day.
"Mitt Romney wants to help all Americans struggling in the Obama economy. As the governor has made clear all year, he is concerned about the growing number of people who are dependent on the federal government, including the record number of people who are on food stamps, nearly one in six Americans in poverty, and the 23 million Americans who are struggling to find work. Mitt Romney's plan creates 12 million new jobs in four years, grows the economy and moves Americans off of government dependency and into jobs," read a statement from Gail Gitcho, Romney's communications director.
Besides the remark that appeared to write off a minority of the country, the secretly recorded video includes other statements that could become troubling for Romney.
To be sure, Obama isn't immune from these sorts of off-the-cuff, behind-closed-door statements. During the 2008 campaign, Obama was overheard at a Pennsylvania fundraiser claiming that middle-class Americans from that region "cling to their guns and religion." Those comments have dogged him since he uttered them. Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan trotted those out at the Republican convention in Tampa.
Judging by the Obama campaign's rapid response to the fervor, however, they appear to have learned from 2008 about the damage such remarks can deal. Romney will likely have to defend these recorded remarks for weeks to come.