SALT LAKE CITY - His campaign at a crossroads, Mitt Romney said Tuesday the federal government should not "take from some to give to the others" as he sought to deflect a wave of criticism over recent remarks dismissive of nearly half of all Americans.
The former Massachusetts governor neither disavowed nor apologized for the comments he made in a videotape that surfaced on Monday. In it, he said 47 percent of Americans don't pay income taxes and believe they are victims entitled to government help, adding that his job as a candidate is "not to worry about those people."
He spoke as at least two Republican Senate candidates pointedly disagreed with the man at the top of their ticket, and as GOP officials openly debated the impact of a series of recent controversies on the party's chances to capture the White House from Barack Obama.
Obama's White House piled on, seven weeks before Election Day. "When you're president of the United States, you are president of all the people, not just the people who voted for you," said press secretary Jay Carney. He added that Obama "deeply believes that we're in this together."
Romney seemed to say otherwise in the video, made last May, in which he told donors at a fundraiser that 47 percent of Americans "believe the government has a responsibility to care for them . . . believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement." He said, "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
In a Tuesday interview on Fox, the network of choice for conservatives, Romney said he wasn't writing off any part of a deeply divided electorate in a close race for the White House, including seniors who are among those who often pay no taxes. Instead, he repeatedly sought to reframe his remarks as a philosophical difference of opinion between himself and Obama.
"I'm not going to get votes from Americans who believe government's job is to redistribute wealth," he said, adding that was something Obama believes in.
"I know there's a divide in the country about that view. I know some believe government should take from some to give to the others. . . . I think that's an entirely foreign concept."
He also said he wants to be president so he can help hard-pressed Americans find work and earn enough so they become income taxpayers.
Romney didn't say so, but the U.S. income tax is designed to be progressive, so those who earn the most theoretically pay the most. Through programs as diverse as Social Security, Medicare, health care and food stamps, the government collects tax revenue and pays it out in the form of benefits for those who qualify.
Privately, some Republicans were harshly critical of Romney's most recent comments and his overall campaign to date, saying he had frittered away opportunities. They also noted that with early voting already under way in some states, the time to recover was smaller than might appear.
Linda McMahon, the Republican candidate for a Senate seat in Connecticut, was open with her criticism. "I disagree with Governor Romney's insinuation that 47% of Americans believe they are victims who must depend on the government for their care," she said in a statement posted to her website.