Prominent conservatives joined Barack Obama in condemning Mitt Romney over leaked comments portraying the US president’s supporters as dependent on government, draining momentum from the challenger’s faltering campaign.
Mr Obama excoriated Mr Romney’s statement that said the president could count on the support of 47 percent of Americans who rely on government, don’t pay tax and “believe they are victims”. The comments have been viewed 2.4 million times online since the secretly recorded video was posted on Monday.
“One thing I’ve learned as president is that you represent the entire country,” Mr Obama said in New York on the Late Show with David Letterman, adding that very few people regarded themselves “as victims.”
But Mr Romney largely stood his ground in his first interview on the issue, saying so many Americans had fallen into poverty that “they’re not paying taxes and have to rely on government”.
“The right course to help them is not just to have government handing out but instead government helping people to get back to good jobs,” he said on Fox News.
Mr Romney also received better news on the polling front, with Gallup recording Mr Obama ahead by only 47 percent to 46, evidence that the president’s post-convention bump has subsided.
Although some on the right urged Mr Romney to stand by his comments and amplify them on the campaign trail, William Kristol, of the conservative Weekly Standard, called them “arrogant and stupid”.
“Romney seems to have contempt not just for the Democrats who oppose him, but for tens of millions who intend to vote for him,” he wrote, referring to the many elderly people and families whose low incomes do not incur federal income taxes but support Republicans.
Two Republican Senate candidates, Linda McMahon, in Connecticut, and Scott Brown, in Massachusetts, distanced themselves from Mr Romney, saying the majority of Americans on welfare did not want to rely on government handouts.
The video clips, posted on the website of Mother Jones, a liberal magazine, upended Mr Romney’s campaign at a time when many Republicans fear their candidate is losing the election debate.
Speaking of the “47 percent” of the population, Mr Romney said: “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
In further excerpts from the video released on Tuesday, Mr Romney suggested that forging peace in the Middle East was not possible, nor was the establishment of a separate Palestinian state alongside 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,” he said.
In past public comments, Mr Romney has supported a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.