Conservatives rushed to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s defense Tuesday after the release of a video tape showing him characterizing supporters of President Obama as people "dependent on the government" who "believe that they are victims."
From Rep. Allen West to radio pundit Laura Ingraham and website commentators like Erik Erikson, conservatives around the blogosphere rallied to Romney's defense.
The response was notable both because of the speed and the depth of passion with which they defended Romney, who has bothered some conservatives with his flexible positions on issues like abortion over the years.
"Mitt Romney probably could have better explained himself," West, R-Fla., said Tuesday on Fox News. "I think he was a little clumsy in doing it."
Romney was right to say the US is "moving toward economic dependence instead of economic freedom." West pointed to the increase in food stamp recipients under the Obama administration as well as poverty and unemployment rates.
Former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain echoed that sentiment.
"My advice to Gov. Romney: don’t back down," Cain told Newsmax.TV in an exclusive interview Tuesday. "You don’t need to say it any differently. You just basically stated a fact and they don’t like the facts because in order – to paraphrase Jack Nicholson from one of his favorite movies – they can’t handle the facts! That’s why they try to turn it into a story that it is not.
"He said absolutely nothing wrong," Cain continued. "The only thing is maybe not all of the 47 percent are going to vote for President Obama. Well, if they’re not voting for him because they don’t pay taxes, some of them are going to vote for President Obama because he’s black, which is also the wrong reason to vote for President Obama."
Billionaire developer Donald Trump told NBC that Romney "cannot apologize" for the comments.
"He has to not apologize, because we've seen enough apologizing already, and he cannot apologize," Trump said. "What he said is probably what he means."
Romney conceded late Monday night that his point probably could have been made more elegantly. But he stood by his remarks.
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what," Romney is heard saying in the video. "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."
Trump conceded that Romney's words were "inartfully stated," but "he cannot apologize."
"He is going for those independents," Trump said. "He won't get the votes of a lot of people that he's discussing, and if you're not going to get the votes, let's go on with it. But do not apologize."
NBC "Today" show host Matt Lauer asked Trump if Romney "truly feels that 47 percent of people in this country have no personal responsibility and don't care for their lives."
"Well, he's saying that that's not really what he meant, and you'd have to ask him about it, but he's actually saying that's not what he meant, and I'm sure he wished he didn't say it," Trump said. "I'm sure that he wish[es the] hidden camera wasn't there, but the fact is, Matt, he's really saying that's not what he meant."
Trump also reiterated that he believed Republicans were "not being tough enough" in their campaign efforts.
"They are not getting — I can't say down and dirty, but that's exactly what President Obama is doing with them, and they have got to fight fire with fire," Trump said. "The Republicans have to get tougher or they are going to lose this campaign."
Other leading conservatives pointed out that Romney's remarks were truthful and that he would be well-served to stand by them as he faces media scrutiny.
On Fox News Tuesday, conservative radio host Laura Ingraham said Romney was simply making the point that there's a large segment of the electorate that will surely vote for President Obama.
"That there is a small slice of the electorate that is undecided," she said. "That's basically what he said there... I think it's ridiculous that people are seizing on it and that we're even giving all that much airtime to it, frankly."
Ingraham added: "He has to hammer home the fact that my policies... what I'm going to do when I'm president... is I'm going to lift all the boats... Don't resent rich people, become a rich person."
At the National Review, Jonah Goldberg wrote that "lots of people, most importantly lots of independents, understand the basic and irrefutable point that there are too many people who feel entitled to consume a lot more tax dollars than they contribute."
On CBS News’ “This Morning,” Republican consultant Rick Davis said the release of this video was bad news for the Romney campaign but that the candidate could use this moment as an opportunity to excite voters.
"Now he is going to have to take a step back a little bit and say the reason I have these views about my economic plan is because of who I am. He's going to have to double up that message a little bit," Davis said.
Erick Erickson of RedState.com chimed in by writing that Romney campaign should "double down" on the remarks.
"The trouble for the left and media (but I repeat myself) is that most Americans agree with Mitt Romney," he said. "Most Americans consider themselves part of the 53 percent and it is not a winning proposition for Barack Obama to convince Americans they are less than they think they are when most Americans already recognize he has made them less than they were."
Michael Walsh at the National Review also urged Romney to stand by his remarks.
"Romney sounded remarkably like... a real conservative," he wrote. "He ought to own it."
He continued, "What he ought to do is step up and embrace the basic division in our nation, including the fact that nearly half the country pays no income taxes. Acknowledge it -- and then explain why, morally, this is not a good thing...Will Romney rise to the occasion and fight? Or will he retreat? Only one path can lead to victory in November."
But some conservatives did chastise the GOP candidate.
Conservative commentator Bill Kristol called Romney's remarks "stupid and arrogant," CBS News reported.
"It's worth recalling that a good chunk of the 47 percent who don't pay income taxes are Romney supporters--especially of course seniors (who might well 'believe they are entitled to heath care,' a position Romney agrees with), as well as many lower-income Americans (including men and women serving in the military) who think conservative policies are better for the country even if they're not getting a tax cut under the Romney plan," he wrote.
"So Romney seems to have contempt not just for the Democrats who oppose him, but for tens of millions who intend to vote for him."
New York Times columnist David Brooks called Romney's economic vision "a country-club fantasy."
"It's what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney," he wrote. "Personally, I think he's a kind, decent man who says stupid things because he is pretending to be something he is not - some sort of cartoonish government-hater. But it scarcely matters. He's running a depressingly inept presidential campaign. Mr. Romney, your entitlement reform ideas are essential, but when will the incompetence stop?"
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