Romney Disparages Obama Voters In Hidden Video

The presidential campaign of Mitt Romney has weathered several difficult days in a row. Last week, conservatives criticized Romney for remarks he made about unrest in Libya and Egypt. Over the weekend, a story in Politico revealed internal sniping within the Romney high command. On Monday the Romney campaign vowed to get back to substance. But their efforts may be thwarted by an article on the website of Mother Jones, which contained excerpts from a video secretly recorded at a Romney fundraiser, in which he disparaged supporters of President Obama. Audie Cornish talks with Ari Shapiro.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now to a development surrounding Mitt Romney's campaign. After several days of stumbles on the trail and internal squabbling spilling into public view, Romney's campaign vowed to get back to substance today. Romney delivered a speech to a Latino group in Los Angeles today touting his economic plan and touching on immigration. But the spotlight was stolen by a report on the website Mother Jones.

The story included clips of videos apparently recorded surreptitiously at a Romney fundraiser. NPR's Ari Shapiro joins me now. And, Ari, before we get to the content of these videos, what do we know about where they came from?

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Well, as you say, they were uploaded initially to YouTube over the last couple of weeks and appear to have been recorded surreptitiously at a fundraiser for wealthy donors. We have not independently verified that the video is real, but they show a man who appears to be Mitt Romney, speaking in Romney's voice, and no one has alleged that the videos are fake.

After the short clips on YouTube were made public, the anonymous person who filmed them gave the entire video to the magazine Mother Jones, which posted much longer clips today. Mother Jones has not said when or where the video was recorded. They did say that it was taped after the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

The Romney campaign released a statement neither confirming nor denying the authenticity of the video but saying, in essence, that Mitt Romney wants to help all Americans.

CORNISH: So what's so controversial about what's on the clips?

SHAPIRO: Well, there's a lot that's controversial. Let me play you one excerpt that is getting the most attention. This is a little hard to discern. But I'll tell you what he says if you don't get it the first time. This is it.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

MITT ROMNEY: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it, that that's an entitlement and the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.

SHAPIRO: So just to recap there, he said, 47 percent of Americans will vote for the president no matter what. These are people who are dependent on government who believe they're victims, entitled to health care, food, housing, and he went on to say these are people who pay no income tax, which is true: 47 percent of Americans pay no income tax, but they do pay many other taxes, including payroll taxes and so on.

CORNISH: So, Ari, why is this such a problem for Romney?

SHAPIRO: Well, he appears to write off nearly half the American population as dependents who believe they are victims, and he said this in front of a private gathering of millionaire donors - not the message you want to send when you're trying to fight a stereotype of yourself as an out-of-touch elitist.

CORNISH: And what else is in the video?

SHAPIRO: Audie, there's a lot. At one point, he says he would have a better shot at winning the election if his father had been born to Mexican parents. You remember his father was born in Mexico, but he's not Latino. He says the reason he has not attacked President Obama more aggressively is that he's trying to win over people who were Obama voters the last time. He talks about declining an invitation to do "Saturday Night Live" for fear that it would come across a slapstick and not presidential. He discusses why Ann Romney has not been on the trail more.

A lot of stuff that he has not said in public, some of which would cause a lot of controversy if he did say it in public, and is causing controversy now.

CORNISH: So what about the fallout?

SHAPIRO: You know, some people are comparing this to a moment four years ago when President Obama was caught on tape at a fund-raiser talking about people who, quote, "cling to their guns and religion." Four years later, Republicans are still talking about that. Here was Paul Ryan on the stump in Pennsylvania last month.

PAUL RYAN: Remember this other time where he was caught on video saying: People like to cling to their guns and their religion. Hey, I'm a Catholic deer hunter. I am happy to be clinging to my guns and my religion.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

SHAPIRO: So, Audie, it's too soon to know whether four years from now, people will still be talking about this Romney video. But needless to say, this is not what his campaign wanted to focus to be this close to Election Day.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Ari Shapiro. Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome.

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