Mitt Romney told FOX News Tuesday he stands by comments he made to donors that 47 percent of Americans are too hopelessly dependent on government to vote Republican. In a new effort to take the heat off his much maligned remarks, Romney repeatedly cited a 1998 video promoted by the RNC on Tuesday in which President Obama used the word “redistribution.”
Romney frequently responds to attacks with an “I’m rubber, you’re glue” strategy in which he accuses his opponent of doing the exact same thing for which he is being criticized. In this case, apparently, the offense is being taped.
“The president’s view is one of a larger government,’” Romney said. “There is a tape that came out where the president is saying he likes redistribution. I disagree.”
Republican operatives began passing around the clip in question Tuesday afternoon. In it, then-state Sen. Obama described to a conference at Loyola University in 1998 how to “structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure everybody’s got a shot.” John McCain tried to highlight similar comments in 2008, when Obama told Samuel “Joe The Plumber” Wurzelbacher that he wanted to “spread the wealth around.”
Other than the word “redistribution,” it’s not clear what the 1998 Obama clip reveals that’s so surprising. His entire re-election campaign is premised on asking millionaires to pay more in taxes in order to invest in programs that benefit the middle class, a theme that he’s emphasized everywhere from his Democratic convention speech to his latest campaign ad.
By contrast, Romney bristles at independent analysts’ claims that his plans would raise taxes on the middle class to benefit the wealthy and claims he supports a strong safety net. But Romney insists in the video unearthed Monday that 47 percent of Americans are whining “victims” who needed to learn self reliance.
“My job is not to worry about those people,” Romney said in the leaked video. “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Romney did not disown his remarks in Tuesday’s FOX News interview, but he did claim that he merely meant he wanted to find good jobs for everyone.
“I do believe that we should have enough jobs and enough take home pay so that people have the privilege of higher income that allows them to be paying taxes,” he said. “I think people would like to be paying taxes. If you are doing well enough you can pay a tax. The problem right now, you see in this country, so many people have fallen in poverty that they are not paying taxes. They have to rely on government and the right course is not government handing out but government helping people get back to good jobs.”
Romney acknowledged that the 47 percent he dismissed as “dependent” voters because they don’t pay income taxes includes many seniors and veterans whose votes he’s courted. But he said he’d still broadly have political problems with many of those individuals since they won’t benefit from his call to lower income tax rates.
“I recognize that those people who are not paying income tax are going to say, gosh, this provision that Mitt keeps talking about lowering income taxes,” Romney said. “Those that are dependent on government and think government’s job is redistribute I’m not going to get them.”
Ironically, in the same interview Romney said he’s written off the idea “those that are dependent on government” will vote for him, he pledged to reverse Medicare savings that his own running mate supported in multiple budgets.
“We go after every group we can to get votes,” he said. “A lot of seniors pay income tax and a lot of seniors don’t like the idea that Medicare got cut $716 billion. So we’re getting great support.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.