One day after his massive — and massively purchased — victory over chief rival for the 2012 Republican nomination former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in Florida, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney cut short the positive news spin on his victory by making a gaffe that is a Chistmas, Hanuka, Kwanza, Easter, Birthday gift to Democrats: a gaffe fitting right into the narrative Democrats hope to roll out to voters of Romney as a rich, out of touch, country club Republican. To Democrats, Romney may be more than just the 2012 Republican Party nominee: he may be the gift that keeps on giving.
Here’s the quote:
“I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich; they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”
Here’s the video of his potentially damaging interview on CNN:
Gingrich pounced on Romney’s comments:
How bad was this gaffe? The Washington Post:
Just two weeks ago, Romney appeared to have shifted on the social safety net, saying in South Carolina, “I’m concerned about the poor in this country.” But on Wednesday, he took a different tack.
In any political campaign, he said, “you can choose where to focus. You can focus on the rich — that’s not my focus. You can focus on the very poor — that’s not my focus. My focus is on middle-income Americans.”
Romney’s difficulty connecting to Americans’ economic troubles — combined with his own extraordinary wealth — will be a major focus of the Obama campaign, if Romney is the Republican nominee.
Update: “President Obama has destroyed the middle class,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul responded in a statement. “We look forward debating President Obama on how his policies have failed the middle class.” Romney himself argued on the campaign trail that he was taken out of context.
Sen. Jim DeMint said Wednesday afternoon that Romney needed to address his remarks and “backtrack.”
“I know he does care about the poor,” DeMint told Roll Call. “But, in fact, I would say I’m worried about the poor because many are trapped in dependency, they need a good job; they don’t need to be on social welfare programs.”
Why is this bad for Romney:
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what some other journalists and pundits are saying:
Why does Romney say this? He wants to inoculate himself from the charge that his program would disproportionately help the rich. (A charge that happens to be true, but never mind that, either.) But disclaiming any intention of helping the rich is dangerous stuff in a Republican primary. So he has to balance it off by disclaiming any intention of helping the poor, either. The rich and poor — both doing great! (Also, Romney will be sure that neither rich nor poor are permitted to sleep under bridges.)
The positive side of this is that Romney is not singling out the poor as parasites, in the classic tradition of Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen”, Phil Gramm’s welfare wagon, or countless others. Romney’s profession of indifference to the poor is a relatively decent sentiment in the context of modern conservatism. On the other hand, the idea that the middle class and not the poor is “hurting the most” is utterly absurd. It’s also worth noting that his budget proposal would require enormous cuts in programs for low-income people.
It may not be true that, at a personal level, Romney doesn’t care about the poor. He probably does. But his platform doesn’t. In that sense, his slip-up was a gaffe in the classic sense of admitting what he actually thinks.
As a bunch of us have been writing around here for a while, the under-emphasized dynamic in this race isn’t that Romney isn’t conservative enough (though that’s obviously a real concern out there) it’s that he’s simply not a good enough politician. He may be the most electable on paper. He’s certainly a nice guy, decent father, smart, successful etc. But, every time he seems to get into his groove and pull away he says things that make people think he doesn’t know how to play the game. That can be reassuring to some, who take it as proof he’s not another politician. The problem, for others at least, is that because he isn’t a natural politician he breaks the language where it needs to bend. He uses language — “I like to fire people!” “It’s nothing to get angry about” etc — that doesn’t make him seem like an unconventional politician. Rather his language makes him seem like a caricature of a conventionally stiff country club Republican.
A case in point, here he is this morning talking about how he’s “not very concerned about the very poor” (video here). I get the point he’s making. It’s a point that Bill Clinton won the presidency with — but with language that attracted voters. Romney’s language won’t do anything of the sort. And the concern is, after nearly a decade of running for president, if he can’t get this stuff down now he never will.
As if to prove the point that this nomination race is far from over, Mitt Romney took to the airwaves Wednesday morning and promptly stepped on his lip…..
….This set off a predictable firestorm within minutes. It resonated because it seemed to perfectly capture the unfair caricature of Romney as a distant, out-of-touch plutocrat—not just Mr. 1 percent, but Mr. 0.1 percent. And whenever a quote riffs off established narratives, it quickly takes on a life of its own.
…..Never forget the scarring impact a father’s stumbles can have on a son. Mitt’s father, George Romney, was an enormously admirable man and governor of Michigan, one of the last leaders of the progressive wing of the Republican Party. But when he ran for president in 1968, he was famously loose-lipped, slipping into malapropisms that required constant clarification. His campaign was ultimately—infamously and unfairly—sunk when he said he’d been “brain-washed” by the military on a trip to Vietnam. It seems that the son has over-learned the lessons of his father’s failures.
Mitt Romney is the opposite of loose-lipped. He is highly disciplined and scripted to the point of seeming robotic. His avoidance of press conferences in this campaign is an attempt to avoid misstatements just like this, which he fears will come back to haunt him.
“I’m not concerned about the very poor” will enter the political lexicon as an instant classic, alongside $10,000 bets and corporations being people. They all riff off the same core stereotypes, which will make it harder for Mitt Romney to connect with the middle class. That’s why this morning’s misstatement will leave a lasting mark.
Romney looks tired here in this CNN interview this morning. Too much post-primary partying, I guess. But it’s exactly the time he needs to be on guard and on his A-game. Instead, he fumbles the post-Florida football and gives ammunition to all of his opponents on both sides of the aisle by reinforcing the perception and reality that he is gobsmackingly out-of-touch. This could easily have been a Saturday Night Live parody.
–Red State’s Eric Erickson in a post titled “The National Review’s Candidate Won’t Stop Digging”:
. So much for the GOP condemning class warfare. Romney’s folks are going with it too. Where Obama goes for “fair shares”, Romney wants to focus only on those hurt “most.”
But the coup de grace came late today when, to mitigate the damage, Romney reminded everyone he supports automatic hikes in the minimum wage — a truly conservative position.
The National Review sure does know how to pick them. Glad they’ll be defending him in the general. I’m not sure I’ll waste my time. Sure, I’ll vote for him. But I think I’ll focus on House and Senate races so when the buyers remorse sets in on those who backed Romney we’re not completely screwed down ballot.
BorowitzReport Andy Borowitz
Romney: “I’m not concerned about the very poor. They’re all working at my house.”
2 hours ago
BorowitzReport Andy Borowitz
Romney: “I misspoke before. The reason I don’t care about the poor is because they’re ugly.”
3 hours ago
BorowitzReport Andy Borowitz
When Mitt Romney says what he believes it never ends well.
3 hours ago
BorowitzReport Andy Borowitz
BREAKING: Romney Proposes Letting Poor People Eat Cake
5 hours ago
Obviously, Romney isn’t really saying that he doesn’t care about people living in poverty; he’s arguing that a social safety net exists that can take care of them.
But to phrase it like this, after all the criticism of his immense wealth, shows someone who’s incredibly out of touch — and at the very least, insensitive….
…Romney is infamous for the blatant dishonesty of his campaign ads; for example, his very first ad featured a deliberately out-of-context quote from President Obama. And when called on it, Romney’s staff refused to retract the ad, gloated instead that it had “worked.”
With this gaffe today, Romney can only hope that his opponents behave more ethically than he does.
Now like everyone in politics, Mitt knows “the very poor” don’t tend to vote in big numbers, and when they do, they tend to vote Democratic. He also knows a lot of people who are objectively poor like to think of themselves as middle-class. And on top of that, he knows that the fidelity of his party to the interests of middle-class Americans is perpetually suspect.
But Mitt, Mitt, you don’t say these things out loud. Indeed, as your consultants will tell you when they stop gnashing their teeth at this remark, Republicans are supposed to respond to any question about the distributional effects of their policies by intoning “class warfare” and changing the subject.
It’s this tone-deafness that makes a lot of Republicans nervous about Mitt Romney as a general-election candidate. He often simply forgets which memo to bring up in his memory banks when he’s on the spot. This time, it was the polling memo, and that was a mistake.