SALT LAKE CITY — His campaign at a crossroads, Mitt Romney said Tuesday the federal government should not "take from some to give to the others" as he sought to deflect a wave of criticism over recent remarks dismissive of nearly half of all Americans.
The former Massachusetts governor neither disavowed nor apologized for the comments he made in a videotape that surfaced on Monday. In it, he said 47 percent of Americans don't pay income taxes and believe they are victims entitled to government help, adding that his job as a candidate is "not to worry about those people."
He spoke as at least two Republican Senate candidates pointedly disagreed with the man at the top of their ticket, and as GOP officials openly debated the impact of a series of recent controversies on the party's chances to capture the White House from Barack Obama.
Obama's White House piled on, seven weeks before Election Day. "When you're president of the United States, you are president of all the people, not just the people who voted for you," said press secretary Jay Carney. He added that Obama "deeply believes that we're in this together."
Romney seemed to say otherwise in the video, made last May, in which he told donors at a fundraiser that 47 percent of Americans "believe the government has a responsibility to care for them ... believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement." He said, "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
In a Tuesday interview on Fox, the network of choice for conservatives, Romney said he wasn't writing off any part of a deeply divided electorate in a close race for the White House, including seniors who are among those who often pay no taxes. Instead, he repeatedly sought to reframe his remarks as a philosophical difference of opinion between himself and Obama.
"I'm not going to get" votes from Americans who believe government's job is to redistribute wealth," he said, adding that was something Obama believes in.
"I know there's a divide in the country about that view. I know some believe government should take from some to give to the others. ... I think that's an entirely foreign concept."
He also said he wants to be president so he can help hard-pressed Americans find work and earn enough so they become income taxpayers.
Romney didn't say so, but the U.S. income tax is designed to be progressive, so those who earn the most theoretically pay the most. Through programs as diverse as Social Security, Medicare, health care and food stamps, the government collects tax revenue and pays it out in the form of benefits for those who qualify.
Privately, some Republicans were harshly critical of Romney's most recent comments and his overall campaign to date, saying he had frittered away opportunities. They also noted that with early voting already under way in some states, the time to recover was smaller than might appear.
Linda McMahon, the Republican candidate for a Senate seat in Connecticut, was open with her criticism. "I disagree with Governor Romney's insinuation that 47% of Americans believe they are victims who must depend on the government for their care," she said in a statement posted to her website.
Sen. Scott Brown, in a tough race for re-election in heavily Democratic Massachusetts, said of Romney's comments: "That's not the way I view the world."
Still, with high-profile presidential debates and seven weeks of campaigning yet ahead, others said those concerns were overstated.
"I don't expect the negative headlines of this week will be what we're talking about a week from now," said Fergus Cullen, the former Republican state chairman in New Hampshire and a close ally of Romney. Like other Republicans, he said, "It's incumbent on the Romney campaign to make it (the election) about Obama's handling of the economy."
Top Republicans in Congress volunteered no reaction to Romney's remarks — just as they generally refrained from commenting a week ago when he issued a statement that inaccurately accused the Obama administration of giving comfort to demonstrators after they breached the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
In the days since, Republicans have grumbled that Romney needed to sharpen his appeal to struggling middle class Americans by stating more clearly what he would do as president to help them. That effort began overnight with a new ad designed to appeal to female voters.
The controversies blazed as opinion polls showed Obama moving out to a narrow lead nationally and in some of the key battleground states in the two weeks since back-to-back national political conventions.
The sluggish economy and lingering high unemployment are by far the overriding issues of the election, and Romney's case for the presidency is based on his claim that his success as a businessman has left him the skills needed to create jobs in a nation where unemployment is 8.1 percent.
Obama and the Democrats have tried to counter by depicting the president's challenger as a multimillionaire who has some of his wealth invested in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere overseas, and is out of touch with the needs of middle class Americans.
In his original reaction to the video, posted by the left-leaning magazine Mother Jones, Romney told reporters Monday night that his fundraising remarks were "not elegantly stated." But he offered no apologies and did not answer directly when asked if he felt he had offended anyone.
He also called for the release of the entire video, rather than selected clips, and Mother Jones did so Tuesday afternoon.
By then, the magazine had already posted another excerpt in which Romney offered an unvarnished assessment of the chances for peace in the Middle East. "The Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace," and "the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish," he said.
"You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem," he said, "and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it."
Obama, who has yet to comment on Romney's videotaped comments, had an appearance on the David Letterman show and a fundraiser with Beyonce and Jay-Z on his campaign schedule for the day.
Romney held a fundraiser in Salt Lake City, with a second one set for evening in Dallas. Obama's campaign emailed a fundraising appeal to supporters referring to Romney's remarks and posted a video online asking voters to watch his comments and respond.
"That's not somebody who I'm thinking, 'Oh, I want him as my president,'" says one woman shown in the video.
Associated Press reporters Holly Ramer in Dover, N.H., and David Espo, Charles Babington, Julie Pace, Philip Elliott and Kasie Hunt in Washington contributed to this report. Kuhnhenn reported from Washington.