In one ill-fated fundraiser, Mitt Romney managed to offend Palestinians, Latinos and some of the same people he's counting on for support if he wants to unseat President Barack Obama.
It isn't the first time Romney's oratory fumbles have put his campaign on its heels and handed opponents material to push the stereotype of him as an out-of-touch businessman and provoked members of the party's conservative base to question his worthiness as their standard-bearer.
"Everybody has the same reaction: 'dumb, dumb, dumb,'" said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, adding that Romney's gaffes reinforce a sitcom-like caricature of the candidate.
After the tape, recorded during a May 17 private fundraiser at the home of Sun Capital executive Marc Leder, made the rounds on Monday, Romney convened a hastily scheduled news conference Monday night in which he said his comments were "off the cuff" and "not elegantly stated."
However, he defended the main message of his remarks, saying he that while he could have made them "more clearly," he said he was trying to point out the differences between his and Obama's campaigns.
Mother Jones released the full video on Tuesday. You can view it here.
Democratic pundits gloated and were content to let Romney's words speak for themselves.
"I mean, I don't think Democrats had much to say at all. I mean, there wasn't much left to say," Democratic strategist Richard Socarides said on CNN's "Early Start." "Look, I mean, I think that, you know, big picture, this is a -- was a devastating moment for Governor Romney, potentially fatal, as people start to focus on this campaign."
Narratives at work
Another Democratic strategist said that Romney's comments played into the two narratives that they have pushed: "First, that he doesn't care about the middle class. Well, thanks for the help, Mitt," Paul Begala, a CNN contributor and a senior adviser in the leading pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA, said on CNN's "AC360."
"On the second front ... in order to give big tax cuts for the rich, Mitt Romney is going to have to raise taxes on the middle class. Well, when you're claiming to wealthy people that 47 percent of Americans don't pay federal income tax, I think a lot of those people, retirees, working class folks are going to listen to that and think, 'Gee, I guess the Democrats are right. I guess he does want to raise the taxes on the middle class in order to help the rich.'"
Republican strategist Margaret Hoover, who served in the Bush White House, said the comments would wound Romney but it wouldn't be a fatal one.
"You can understand while he tripped over his words, it probably wasn't characterized the best way. I think we can all agree with that," she said on "Early Start." "You can understand what he was trying to say. Do we have a systemic problem in this country when you have almost 50 percent of people not paying any federal income taxes? And he's running on a platform that would fundamentally change the tax code so that you lower the base, broaden the base and lower tax rates across the board."
Reaction from other conservatives was mixed. While some some applauded Romney's comments, others saw them as reinforcing why they questioned his legitimacy.
CNN contributor and conservative blogger Erick Erickson tweeted: "Dammit! I'm just now seeing these Romney secret videos. We need that guy on the campaign trail!"
Others, such as New York Times columnist, David Brooks, wrote "Romney's comment is a country-club fantasy. It's what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney."
And conservative commentator Bill Kristol, a frequent critic of Romney, called the remarks "stupid and arrogant."
"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. 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," Kristol posted on The Weekly Standard on Tuesday.
Romney campaign responds
A Romney adviser tried to put the comments in context:
"What he's saying is there are people out there who don't pay taxes, unfortunately," Bay Buchanan, a senior adviser, said on CNN's "Starting Point" on Tuesday. "They're in a position where they're dependent on government, and those individuals are -- those Americans are voting for Barack Obama. They're in his backyard. And so those are people that I'm not going to be able to reach with my 20 percent tax cut or my cuts in spending because they would be concerned. It's not going to impact them getting a 20 percent tax cut. They don't pay taxes."
Romney's comments were recorded by a hidden camera and posted Monday afternoon on the left-leaning news websites Mother Jones and The Huffington Post.
Romney argued nearly half of Americans will vote for Obama because they rely on government support.
Adding to his argument about entitlement, Romney said his "job is not to worry about those people."
He also joked about wishing he had Latino heritage and talks about a Chinese factory his former firm purchased.