His infamous 47 percent remarks were taken out of context, Mitt Romney told The Washington Post's Dan Balz in an interview published Sunday.
Asked about the oft-cited quote that 47 percent of Americans can't be persuaded to take personal responsibility, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee said, "Actually, I didn't say that ...That's how it began to be perceived, and so I had to ultimately respond to the perception, because perception is reality."
At a May 2012 closed-to-the-press fundraiser in Florida, Romney said, "And so my job is not to worry about those people -- I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is convince the 5 to 10 percent in the center that are independents, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy or not, what it looks like."
But Romney told Balz that the focus of his remarks was on swing voters, not on those who were already in President Barack Obama's camp. "[I]t was saying, 'Look, the Democrats have 47 percent, we've got 45 percent, my job is to get the people in the middle, and I've got to get the people in the middle,'" he said. "They’ve got a bloc of voters, we've got a bloc of voters, I've got to get the ones in the middle. And I thought that that would be how it would be perceived -- as a candidate talking about the process of focusing on the people in the middle who can either vote Republican or Democrat."
Romney's argument that the remarks were taken out of context is a new defense for him. During the campaign, he said at first that they were "not elegantly stated" and then that they were "completely wrong."
Also in the interview with Balz, Romney claimed that Obama had made a similar comment: "And I think the president said he's writing off 47 percent of Americans and so forth. And that wasn't at all what was intended. That wasn't what was meant by it. That is the way it was perceived."
Romney nonetheless acknowledged that the quote was "very damaging" to his campaign. Indeed, the Obama campaign seized on the remark, creating an ad based on it, and the former Massachusetts governor took a hit in the polls.