For Romney, Leaked Video Creates Fresh Challenges

BY Terence Burlij and Katelyn Polantz  September 18, 2012 at 9:31 AM EDT

Mitt Romney; photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Mitt Romney campaigns Monday in Los Angeles. Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Remember all the talk about Mitt Romney’s campaign team shifting its strategy and offering more specifics on policy? Monday was probably not what it had in mind.

Romney found himself caught in a political firestorm Monday after the liberal magazine Mother Jones posted video of the Republican presidential nominee criticizing supporters of President Obama during a private fundraiser in Florida earlier this year.

“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,” Romney told the group of donors.

“[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” he added.

You can watch the full clip of those comments below.

(New York Magazine reports that the video was obtained by Mother Jones with help from the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, whom Romney has tried to associate with President Obama as two examples of failed Democratic leadership.)

The Obama campaign immediately seized on the comments and accused Romney of seeking to divide the country.

“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,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a statement. “It’s hard to serve as president for all Americans when you’ve disdainfully written off half the nation.”

During a hastily arranged news conference Monday evening, Romney conceded his remarks were “not elegantly stated” but stood by his broader point that those who rely on government benefits were not likely to support his candidacy.

“I recognize that among those that pay no tax…I’m not likely to be highly successful with the message of lowering taxes,” Romney said. “That’s not as attractive to those who don’t pay income taxes as it is to those who do. And likewise those who are reliant on government are not as attracted to my message of slimming down the size of government.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Sara Murray reports that the former Massachusetts governor also called on the person who released the clips to put out the full video so people could have the full context of the questions asked at the event.

The most ominous line from Mother Jones’ piece: “COMING SOON: More from the secret Romney video.” And sure enough, the magazine dropped another clip Tuesday morning that shows Romney talking down the idea of a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.

In the clip, Romney said that the Palestinians have “no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish.”

He added: “These are problems — these are very hard to solve, all right? And I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, ‘There’s just no way.’ And so what you do is you say, ‘You move things along the best way you can.’ You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem.”

The episode for Romney harkens back to 2008, when then-candidate Barack Obama told attendees at a San Francisco fundraiser that it wasn’t a surprise people in small towns in the Midwest who lost their jobs “get bitter” and “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”

The remarks came during the run-up to the Pennsylvania primary, which Mr. Obama ended up losing by 9 percent to Hillary Clinton. While the comments did not cost him the Democratic nomination, or the presidency, they’re still being used as a political weapon against him to this day.

“I am happy to be clinging to my guns and my religion,” Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan told supporters in western Pennsylvania late last month.

The problem for Romney is that his comments in the video have surfaced just 50 days before Election Day, leaving the candidate very little time to respond. It’s an all but certain lock that the Obama campaign will use the video to continue to build the narrative that he doesn’t understand the concerns of middle-class and poor Americans.

PAGE & BALZ

On Monday, Gwen Ifill spoke with Susan Page of USA Today and Dan Balz of the Washington Post about the latest batch of poll numbers, how the candidates responded to the outbreak of violence in Libya and Egypt last week, the shift by the Romney campaign to highlight more specifics and the reports of infighting among strategists working for the GOP nominee’s election effort.

Page addressed the Romney campaign’s decision to recalibrate its message.

They had been running a race that would be a referendum on President Obama, in which President Obama would be found wanting and therefore his challenger would win.

And that has not I think been sufficient. It’s become more of a choice election. That reflects a success by the Obama folks in raising questions about Governor Romney.

So he is now forced to make a stronger case for himself. And the problem with coming out with specifics, whether it’s on economic policy or foreign policy, is that it gives more for your critics to pick at and criticize, as well as giving Americans a better sense of what you would do in office.

Balz, meanwhile, said the reports of internal grumbling inside the Romney campaign were not likely to have a major impact the outcome of the election.

[C]ampaigns ultimately reflect the candidate. Strategists can do what they do. And some strategists are better than others. And strategists make mistakes and strategists can be brilliant.

But, ultimately, the issue of how Gov. Romney presents himself to the American people is something that Gov. Romney, in consultation with his advisers, has to find that sweet spot.

And so there can be criticism, as there always is in a campaign that’s under duress, about should you have done something that you didn’t do or did you do something that you shouldn’t have.

But, for voters, I think the real test is, does this campaign and this candidate convince me that I should be voting for him?

Watch Monday’s report here or below:

2012 LINE ITEMS

  • David Weigel of Slate profiled in August 2011 the rise of the GOP’s unhappiness with Americans who don’t pay taxes.

  • Priorities USA Action PAC has a new attack ad out in the key battlegrounds — Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Virginia and Wisconsin — with simple imagery of families and a frank message: “If Mitt Romney wins, the middle class loses.”

  • The newest ad from the Romney campaign uses video of a baby. It’s called “Dear Daughter” and aims at female voters.

  • Mr. Obama’s shift this summer to allow work visas for young undocumented immigrants who’ve grown up in the country didn’t come without political strings attached. A White House policy that exempts these immigrants from federal health care benefits has angered Hispanic and immigration groups, the New York Times writes.

  • Romney’s public appearances Monday included a push for Latino voters.

  • Memorial Hall in Topeka, Kan., which houses some state offices, was the scene of a clash between Obama supporters, Occupy movement protesters and anti-Obama birthers on Monday, the Kansas City Star writes.

  • The White House initiates trade action against China, and Romney is pleased.

  • A video mashing up the president’s “You didn’t build that” comment and MC Hammer’s 1990 hit “U Can’t Touch This” went viral Monday. It was posted by Hugh Atkin, who earlier this year uploaded a video titled “Will the Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up” set to “The Real Slim Shady” by Eminem.

  • Christina will appear Tuesday night on a panel at Columbia University to speak about the NewsHour’s use of technology this election season. More details are here.

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

  • Conservative political action groups American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS are expanding their advertising into a U.S. House race — New York’s 1st District.

  • Ohio, long the state that held the key to winning the presidency, has decreased its number of voters by almost 500,000 since 2008, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

  • Roll Call’s Shira Toeplitz finds that 2016 hopefuls are already flocking to Iowa.

  • BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner previews the gay marriage cases headed to the Supreme Court.

  • Margaret Warner blogs about her experience interviewing former Supreme Court Justice David Souter for Constitution Day.

  • The NewsHour takes a look at climate skeptics.

  • Sen. Dick Lugar will not campaign for state treasurer Richard Mourdock, the man who beat him in Indiana’s Republican primary.

  • The chancellor of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has resigned.

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • Vice President Biden makes a pair of campaign stops in Iowa, speaking in Ottumwa at 11:30 a.m. and Grinnell at 3 p.m.

  • Paul Ryan attends a campaign event in Dover, N.H., at 11:10 a.m. and another in Newport News, Va., at 5:25 p.m.

  • President Obama attends a pair of New York City fundraisers at 7:40 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. (hosted by Jay-Z and Beyonce) and appears in a taped appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman” at 11:35 p.m.

  • Mitt Romney has no public events scheduled.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @kpolantz, @indiefilmfan, @tiffanymullon, @dePeystah, @meenaganesan and @abbruns.