Mitt Romney on Tuesday defended his comments about people who are dependent on government services, saying that the secretly recorded video of him speaking at a fund-raiser last May actually helps to clarify the philosophical differences between himself and President Obama.
Mitt Romney spoke at a fund-raiser in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, as the political discussion swirled over comments he made in a recorded video.
Facing an escalating torrent of criticism from Democrats and Republicans for characterizing 47 percent of the country as people who believe they are “victims,” Mr. Romney sought to steer the political conversation toward a debate about the size and scope of government in people’s lives.
Speaking to Neil Cavuto on Fox News, Mr. Romney said he stands by comments that he said demonstrates his belief in the power of free enterprise rather than a growing reliance on largess from the federal treasury.
“The president’s view is one of a larger government,” Mr. Romney said. “I think a society based upon a government-centered nation, where government plays a larger and larger role, redistributes money — that’s the wrong course for America.”
He added, “We believe in free people and free enterprise, not redistribution.”
Mr. Romney’s interview came on the same day that new video clips emerged of his blunt comments on other subjects during that fund-raiser.
The latest video showed Mr. Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the wealthy donors, telling them that a resolution to the conflict between the warring neighbors was unlikely.
“We sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it,” Mr. Romney said in the clip, posted by Mother Jones magazine on its Web site.
The magazine on Tuesday released the full video of what it said was an hourlong speech by Mr. Romney at the fund-raiser. The clips have already hijacked Mr. Romney’s efforts to reset his campaign message and take advantage of a two-week period before the debates begin.
The political impact from Mr. Romney’s comments about “people who pay no income tax” showed little sign of abating despite the new interview and a late-night news conference on Monday during which Mr. Romney stood by remarks that he said were “not elegantly stated.”
In the Fox News interview, Mr. Romney waved aside criticism that he had been dismissive of nearly half of the country’s voters and might have damaged his chances at winning the White House in November. He said his assessment of the “47 percent” likely to vote for Mr. Obama was merely intended to reflect the polarized political reality in the country today.
He acknowledged that some of the 47 percent who do not pay federal income taxes are retired seniors or military veterans. But he said his policies would provide an opportunity to raise salaries so that more people qualify to pay taxes.
“I think people would like to be paying taxes,” he said. “The good news is if you are doing well enough financially that you can pay a tax.” Asked whether he agrees with Donald Trump, the real estate mogul, that he has nothing to apologize for, Mr. Romney said, “I always appreciate his counsel.”
Mr. Romney added: “This focuses a great deal of attention on whether or not we are going to have a government that becomes larger.”
Democrats on Tuesday characterized Mr. Romney’s comments as further evidence that he is out of touch with middle-class and poor Americans, saying he does not understand that many people who depend on the government are the elderly, military veterans and the working poor who pay payroll taxes.
Richard Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., on Tuesday called Mr. Romney’s remarks “a spit in the face to everyday people who know what it means to work incredibly hard and still sometimes fail to get by.”
In a speech at the union’s headquarters, Mr. Trumka said that “those so-called victims he dismisses with ease are victims of his — they’re victims of a system that was rigged by Mitt Romney’s backers so they’d lose.”
President Obama spoke for the first time on Tuesday evening about Mr. Romney’s comments, saying that people in public office should not “suggest that because someone doesn’t agree with me that they’re victims or they’re unpatriotic.”
Speaking during an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, Mr. Obama added that “there are not a lot of people out there who think they’re victims. There are not a lot of people who think they’re entitled to something.”
And Mr. Obama’s campaign released a man-on-the-street Internet video in which voters were shown Mr. Romney’s remarks about “victims” who remain dependent on government.
“I actually felt sick to my stomach,” one woman says in the video. Another says that “it shows that he’s out of touch if he thinks that half of the country is feeling like victims.”
But Republicans, too, were quick criticize Mr. Romney as many continued to express concern that Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, was letting the opportunity to defeat Mr. Obama slip away.
Some Republican candidates sought to distance themselves from Mr. Romney’s comments. In Connecticut, Linda E. McMahon, the Republican candidate for the Senate, denounced Mr. Romney’s videotaped remarks, saying she is “sympathetic” to the economic struggles of American families.
“I disagree with Governor Romney’s insinuation that 47 percent of Americans believe they are victims who must depend on the government for their care,” Ms. McMahon said in a statement posted on her campaign Web site. “I know that the vast majority of those who rely on government are not in that situation because they want to be.”
Trent Lott, the former Mississippi senator and Senate majority leader, said it was not Mr. Romney’s meaning that was harmful.
“I do think we’ve become too much of a dependence society. I do think the government’s way out of control,” he said. “It is his ongoing inability to keep the election focused on his vision for the presidency.”
Mr. Lott added: “He’s got to do a better job saying, ‘If you elect me president, this is what you’re gonna get, 1, 2, 3, 4.’ He has to reel those off, flawlessly, every single day. Mitt Romney has got to get better about staying on message.”
Mr. Romney spent Tuesday out of the public eye, holding two fund-raisers and no public events. His running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, held a town-hall-style meeting in New Hampshire, where he defended the ticket’s desire to fight against dependency on the federal government, which he said had become worse during Mr. Obama’s tenure.
“We should be measuring the progress of our social programs by how many people we transition off of them,” he said at the meeting.
Kevin Madden, a spokesman traveling with Mr. Romney, argued that the video controversy would quickly blow over now that the candidate has explained what he meant. “It has to — I think we’ve put in context the focus of the voters out there,” Mr. Madden said aboard a flight to Utah from California on Tuesday morning. “And the voters I think are really focused on the big issues related on the economy and the direction of the country.”
Asked if Mr. Romney was winning the race right now, Mr. Madden replied, “Well this is a very close campaign,” adding, “I think it will be all the way to Election Day.”
In addition to the fallout from the comments about the “47 percent,” Mr. Romney on Tuesday faced questions about how he would handle the Middle East peace process if he occupied the White House.
Mr. Romney has sought to cast himself as a turnaround expert, a fixer who can fashion success from the wreckage of a failing company, Olympics, or economy. But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he can be heard saying in the video, is a case where “we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.”
He later added, “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 continues, “You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem,” and compares the Middle East peace process to the volatile relationship between China and Taiwan.
Mr. Romney’s official Israel position invokes a hawkish commitment to Israel and does not officially back a two-state solution.
“The idea of pushing on the Israelis to give something up to get the Palestinians to act is the worst idea in the world,” Mr. Romney says in the video, echoing a critique on his Web site of the Obama administration as “pressuring Israel without extracting any price from the Palestinians in return.”
Mark Regev, a spokesman for the office of Prime Minister’ Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, declined to discuss the Romney comments. He noted that in interviews with NBC’s Meet the Press and CNN’s State of the Nation this weekend, Mr. Netanyahu had insisted he would not be dragged into the American presidential campaign.
This was not the first time Mr. Romney has created controversy with his remarks about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During a July fund-raiser in Israel, Mr. Romney said “culture makes all the difference” as he noted economic disparities between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Palestinians viewed the comment as disparaging and insensitive to effect of Israeli blockades.
Sarah Wheaton and Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: September 18, 2012