Image: U.S. Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Governor Romney speaks to reporters in Los Angeles
Jim Young  /  Reuters
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speaks to reporters in Los Angeles, California, September 17, 2012.
By
NBC News
updated 9/18/2012 10:12:22 AM ET 2012-09-18T14:12:22

The Republican presidential nominee hastily arranged a press conference to do damage control related to comments he made at a private fundraiser, which were secretly recorded and first brought to light by the liberal magazine Mother Jones.

"Of course individuals are going to take responsibility for their life, and my campaign is about helping people take more responsibility and becoming employed again — particularly those who don't have work," Romney said at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, Calif.

How the Romney video leaked: For Carters, it was personal

At the fundraiser, held at the home of a supporter in Florida, Romney was captured responding to a questioner who asked what he would do to ensure Americans take care of themselves.

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"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," Romney said.

Romney added: "My job is 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 convince the 5-10 percent of people who 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."

Tonight Romney argued that those comments showcased the extent of the differences between himself and President Barack Obama on the role of government in American lives, and sought to link them to his regular stump speech remarks about what he calls the democratic vision for an "entitlement society."

Leaked video is the latest hit for Romney

"This is, of course, something I talk about a good deal in rallies and speeches and so forth, which is the president and I have very different approaches to the future of America and what it takes to ignite our economy and put people back to work," Romney said. "The president believes in what I’ve described as a government centered society where government plays a larger and larger role, provides for more and more of the needs of individuals and I happen to believe instead in a free enterprise, free individual society where people pursuing their dreams are able to employ one another, build enterprises, build the strongest economy in the world."

But when he was asked whether he was distancing himself from his comments on tape, and whether he worried that he had offended a number of Americans, Romney suggested that Obama's message on taxes is, in fact, "attractive" to Americans who aren't paying any taxes, "and therefore, I'm not likely to draw them into my campaign as effectively as those who are in the middle."

Today's firestorm over the leaked fundraiser comments marked the second time Romney's overheard remarks at a finance event have generated national headlines. In April, he told a group of donors in Florida he would consider eliminating the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and dramatically reshaping the Department of Education (among other details not regularly shared on the campaign trail).

Tonight, the GOP nominee denied that he delivers two separate messages to his fundraisers and the American people at large, saying most of what he says in his remarks at finance events is the same as his stump speech. But Romney acknowledged that, in question and answer sessions, donors like to ask process questions about the campaign — issues in which Romney said Monday evening that Americans have little interest, but that donors like to have answered by the candidate.

Under increasing scrutiny, Romney campaign turns to details

"At a fundraiser you have people say governor how are you going to win this? And so I respond well, the president has his group I have my group. I want to keep my team strong and motivated and I want to get those people in the middle, that’s something which fundraising people who are parting with their monies are very interested in knowing can you win or not and that’s what this was addressing," Romney said.

Romney's comments quickly developed into more of a story after the release of the video, prompting an attack from President Barack Obama's campaign manager late Monday afternoon.

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

The Romney campaign tried to act quickly to deal with the fallout from the potentially damaging story, releasing a statement early evening from communications director Gail Gitcho looking to add context to the former Bain Capital executive's remarks.

But for the Republican's campaign, the emerging firestorm associated with these recordings couldn't have come at a worse time.

Video: Romney on comments secretly recorded at fundraiser

A series of polls conducted in the week following the back-to-back party conventions found that Obama had strengthened his advantage over Romney. These polls and Romney's attack on the president's handling of a siege on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya prompted a new round of open grousing from within the GOP about the state of the Romney campaign.

On top of that, POLITICO reported Sunday about infighting and blurry lines of authority within the Romney campaign — an ominous sign, given that this sort of finger-pointing is usually more characteristic of losing campaigns.

Romney himself addressed those reports, telling Telemundo this afternoon that his "senior campaign people work extraordinarily well together."

The Republican's campaign also tried to regroup with a new messaging effort they said would add detail to Romney's existing proposals, an initiative which may well be consumed by the uproar associated with the fundraiser video.

Romney said he would "certainly appreciate" if the leaker — whose identity isn't publicly known — would release the entire tape to provide more context for his remarks.

The Romney campaign began to allow reporters to cover some of their finance events in early May. Typically, a small group of reporters is allowed to sit in for the candidate's formal remarks on behalf of all their colleagues, then file a report for the pool. Events where Romney does not give formal remarks, or where he speaks at a private home or business are exempted from this coverage, so many of Romney's finance events happen far away from the eyes of the press.

Coincidentally, the Romney campaign told reporters just this morning, they would begin to allow video and news photo coverage of their large finances events as well — including planned events in Utah and Dallas.

NBCNews.com's Michael O'Brien contributed to this report.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: Romney campaign suffers another setback

  1. Closed captioning of: Romney campaign suffers another setback

    >> todd.

    >>> mitt romney defends the caught on camera remarks is there any way to contain the fallout over his calling half the country dependent obama voters in these things have legs, just ask the president.

    >>> plus with over 50 coalition troops killed by uniformed afghans this year alone, nato has taken the remarkable step. we have suspended joint operations . we are live in kabul.

    >>> and are donors being fooled by political phishing scams, how some websites are being used to divert money into their own covers it is tuesday, september 18 , 2012 this is the daily run down, i'm chuck todd . 49 dies go my first reads of the morning.

    >>> rough ten days for mitt romney , the president gets a notable convention bounce a bad jobs report seemed to have no illinompact on the electorate. romney 's response to libya and egypt, widely band. infighting in the the romney campaign goes public. now this a newly leaked video obtained by " mother jones " and later nbc news, shows romney at a florida fund-raiser in may. nbc news has learned it was secretly recorded at a $50,000 a plate fund-raiser at the boca raton home of private equity mogul mark later. take a look.

    >> the obama campaign immediate pounced. "it is shocking that a candidate for president of the united states would go behind closed doors and declare to a group of wealthy dancers half american people view themselves as victims entitled to handout and are unwilling to take personal responsibility to their lives it is hard to serve as president for all americans when you disdainfully written you have half the nation." the romney campaign put out this innocuous statement from communications director . " mitt romney wants to help all americans struggling in the obama economy. as the gaffe go of nor made clear all year are 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. pir's plan control 12y5i9s million new jobs in four years, grows the economy and moves americans off of government dependency and into jobs." late night for the east coast , not so on the west coast , so little notice, there wasn't time for any news organization to take the event live. he said he was trying to offer donors his 50% plus one strategy.

    >> at a fundraiser, you have people saying, governor, how are you doing going to win this? i respond, well, the president has his group, i have my group, i want to keep my team strong and motivated and i want to get those people in the middle. that's something which fund-raising people who are parting with their moneys are very interested in knowing, can you win or not. that's what this is -- this was address.

    >> he did stand by his remarks, repeating these facts.

    >> as i point out, i recognize among those that pay no tax, approximately 47% of americans , i'm not likely to be highly successful with the message of lowering taxes, likeless wise, those reliant on government are not attracted to my message of slimming down the size of government.

    >> where does the 47% number come from in the tax policy center , which found that 46.4% of households pay no federal income tax in 2011 , but most households did pay payroll taxes . of the 18% who paid neither income taxes or payroll taxes , neither than half were elderly and a third of tax credits went to low-income families with children and the working poor . many of the seniors who benefit from the current tax policy are actually likely romney voters. the republican share of vote among white seniors has increased in each of the last five elections to a whopping 58% in 2008 and we have seen them in the same high numbers in 2012 . according to the tax foundation , eight of the top ten states with the lowest income tax liability, check them out, are so-called red states . the only exceptions, florida, a battleground state , and new mexico, a lean, shall we say democratic state , some people think could be a battle ground. a couple things happen to candidates at fund-raisers. candidates play to the room, they shorthand things, say things in ways they would never say in public. we remember when then-candidate obama got caught on mic making this remark in 2008 .

    >> the president is actually still paying the price for that comment, which republicans are still using against him.

    >> hey, i'm a catholic deer hunter. i'm happy to be clinging to my guns and my religion.

    >> and there's some democrats who think we wouldn't even be talking about pennsylvania as potentially in play if it weren't for the bitter remark or that the entire midwest wouldn't be in play you the president or a democratic candidate that didn't make those remarks would be in much better shape in 2012 . former president bill clinton got grief after a houston fund-raiser, by the way, 1995 , when he said, "probably there are people in this room still mad at me at that budget because you think i raised your taxes too much. it might surprise you to know that i think i raised them too much too." clearly, romney felt corned and that he couldn't retract his remarks without angering copper is vat it was. we have already seen some of the right applaud the comments. eric erickson tweeted, dammit, i'm just now seeing these secret romney videos. we need that guy on the campaign trail. it comes at a time when romney was trying to quiet angst about his faultering campaign. yesterday in an interview with telemundo's jose diaz balance larity.

    >> my senior campaign people work extremely well together, i would well them h my campaign is doing well and frankly, these process stories take away from what is concern to the american people .

    >> so, no changes in your campaign?

    >> no, i've got a good team.

    >> the fact of the matter is timingselfing in politics. remember the president made those remarks as a candidate in march and age the timing right now on this is very bad for the romney campaign, because had owe? what made those bitter comments in september, do you think we have won pennsylvania by double digits? this morning, "the new york times'" david brooks has a brutal a, brutal critique of romney in the "new york times." "personally, i think he is -- he is a kind, decent man who says stupid things because he is pretending to be something he is not, some sort of cartoonish government heart, but it scarcely matters, he is running a depressingly inept presidential campaign . mr. romney , your entitle. reform ideas are essential but wlent incompetence stoop?" that is right, a guy the center right columnist from the "new york times" who yes, still sometimes is favorable to the president but seems to be -- seems to want to at least fall in like with the romney /ryan ticket and comments seem to be turning him off. one final point, canned dats publicly campaign as if they want on to be 65% president, what you do the first time you run for president, reagan in '80, clinton in '92, bush in 2000 . they were all making the case that they were going to be that different president, that they were going to get 65% of the public on their side, even if they never were going to get 65% of the public to vote for them. these comments paint a portrait of a candidate already settled on being a 51% president, given into the polarization, one of the president's key you will haver in ran bills, why are we so divide now when you promise we wouldn't be so div snide romney is simply selling a people lar rised divided climate if he gets elected, too, that's the pessimistic part ofthy think he is going to be paying for for a longer period of time.

    >>> protests have broken out in indonesia, india and thailand. in lebanon, the leader of hezbollah made a rare public appearance to rally hundreds of supporters who gathered for a peaceful rally in bay rule back in libya where this all began, the burned out consul slat sealed off and security has been stepped up, amid the investigation into the deaths of ambassador chris stevens and three other americans . but the admin station is having trouble with a key question, why wasn't there more security before last tuesday's attack? the u.s. ambassador , the u.n., susan rice , "meet the press," there was a strong security presence there.

    >> we had security personnel in benghazi,tragically, two were our security personnel.

    >> they directly contradict rice saying the two victims she referenced, glen doherty and tyrone woods , were part paof a security detail at the consul l.a. they say ambassador stevens had one security officer around a local militia. what is more, libyan officials say there were warning signs that the consulate might be targeted, including attacks on a british diplomat and red cross in benghazi. last tuesday's assault, they are saying, was not preplanned.

    >> it sin explicable and inexcusable that our personnel were not better protected.

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