WASHINGTON—In a Fox News interview Tuesday, Mitt Romney stuck by his earlier position on his controversial remarks about 47 percent of the US population being dependent on government. He refused to back down amid criticism that he has disparaged nearly half of the electorate by saying that they don’t pay taxes and would never consider voting for him.
But Romney, in his first interview since video clips began emerging from a private fundraiser in May, also sought to clarify that he was not writing off 47 percent of those who don’t pay taxes. That figure, which Romney cited at the fundraiser, includes seniors, some members of the military, and poor Americans who either don’t meet certain tax thresholds or have enough exemptions to put them below the thresholds.
“There are a number of retirees, members of the military and so forth who aren’t paying taxes, and that’s as it should be,” Romney told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto Tuesday afternoon. “But I do believe that we should have enough jobs and enough take-home pay such that people have the privilege of higher incomes that allow them to be paying taxes. I think people would like to be paying taxes.”
The problem, Romney argued, is that people are so poor nowadays that they’re not paying taxes.
“I want to get people back to work,” he said. “I’d like to see everybody who’s not retired, not in the military, having the privilege of having a good job and a good income – enough that they qualify to pay taxes.”
But even while he tried to make a broader policy argument, Romney in the next breath said that his comments at the fundraiser were not about policies – they were a measure of his political chances of winning the White House.
“I was talking about the fact that I don’t expect to get 60 or 70 percent of the vote,” Romney said. “I understand that some portion will be the president’s, some portion will be mine. I’ve got to get as many as I can from every single cohort in this country.”
Romney several times referenced a 1998 clip that surfaced just before his interview, which shows Obama, then a state senator, advocating for helping the poor through “redistribution.”
“The trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution,” Obama says in the clip, which was linked to the conservative website the Drudge Report. “Because I actually believe in redistribution—at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody’s got a shot.”
“I know some believe that government should take from some to give to the others,” Romney said in the Fox interview. “I think that’s an entirely foreign concept. I believe America was built on the principle of government caring for those in need, but getting out of the way and allowing free people to pursue their dreams.”
Toward the end of the interview, Romney said he was unaware that the video had been leaked to the liberal website Mother Jones with the help of James Carter IV, the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter.
“I hadn’t heard that one,” Romney said. “You know, I’m not too concerned about the source. Look, this is a message I’m carrying day in and day out, and will carry over the coming months.”
“I’m not going to be too critical of how people get that message out,” he added. “It’s out there in a big way and I think that will focus a lot of attention on the kind of choice I think America has.”Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.