SALT LAKE CITY — Mitt Romney on Tuesday said that President Obama’s economic vision embraces the notion that government is an instrument to be used to redistribute people’s hard-earned money as the Republican presidential candidate tried to curtail political damage from caught-on-camera comments that indicated he has written off nearly half of the electorate.
Fighting to overcome his own comments made in a May fundraiser that 47 percent of the country doesn’t pay income taxes, views itself as victims and won’t vote for him, Mr. Romney pointed to a newly surfaced 1998 audio clip of Mr. Obama, posted on YouTube on Tuesday, in which then-state Sen. Barack Obama said he supported wealth redistribution.
Mr. Romney, who did not back away from his own comments about voters, said the two clips capture what this year’s election is about.
“I think a society based on a government-centered nation where government plays a larger and larger role, redistributes money, that is the wrong course for America,” Mr. Romney said in an interview on Fox News. “I believe the right course for America is one where government steps in to help those in need … but then we let people build their own lives, create enterprises.”
Asked about the Romney remarks during a taping in New York on Tuesday of the “Late Show with David Letterman,” Mr. Obama replied, “If you want to be president, you have to work for everyone, not just for some.”
Mr. Romney’s attempt to right the ship comes during a week in which he has been dogged by video from the May 17 closed-door fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla.
Initial clips showed him saying many voters were dependent on government and saw themselves as victims, which is why they won’t vote for him.
The grandson of former President Jimmy Carter told the Associated Press that he persuaded the source who secretly taped Mr. Romney at the fundraiser to release the full video to the media. James Carter IV says he tracked down the source in August via Twitter and persuaded the person to release the video to Mother Jones, a liberal online publication.
On Tuesday, Mother Jones detailed another part of the recording, in which Mr. Romney doubted whether a two-state solution could be achieved between Israel and the Palestinians, arguing a Palestinian state would be an opening for Iran or another enemy to get a better vantage for striking Israel.
“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,” Mr. Romney said, offering a blunt assessment he has never shared on the public campaign trail.
White House press secretary Jay Carney pounced, characterizing Mr. Romney’s comments as divisive, while defending similar unguarded remarks that Mr. Obama made in 2008, telling voters at a fundraiser in San Francisco that voters living in small-town Pennsylvania “cling to guns or religion.”
Mr. Carney said those comments were made four years ago, and were well-debated at the time, but that Mr. Obama has proved as president that he’s fighting for all Americans.
“When you’re president of the United States, you’re president of all the people, not just the people who voted for you,” Mr. Carney said.
In the brief 1998 audio clip, Mr. Obama defends government action to redistribute wealth, though he said he also believes those who defend government must work to make it streamlined and effective.
“I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution,” he said. “Because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure that everybody’s got a shot.”