Mitt Romney suffered another self-inflicted wound yesterday, telling a national television audience, “I’m not concerned about the very poor.” As First Read noted, everyone makes gaffes, “but in politics, what becomes damaging is when a verbal gaffe fits a pre-existing narrative.”
This one certainly fit the bill. In seven words, Romney reinforced doubts about his candidacy – he comes across as an out-of-touch elitist; his agenda is heavily stacked to help the wealthy; he’s indifferent towards Americans struggling most – in the clumsiest way possible.
What was especially interesting about yesterday, however, was that Romney didn’t just face criticism from the left; the right seemed dumbfounded, too. The Weekly Standard’s John McCormack called the former governor’s comment “the most stunningly stupid remark of his campaign.”
It’s obvious that Romney’s statement that he’s “not concerned about the very poor” is incredibly tone-deaf. A candidate can say he’s “focused” on the middle class without saying he’s “not concerned” about the very poor, just as a candidate can say he’s “focused” on the economy without saying he’s “not concerned” about national security or even less vital issues like education.
But Romney’s remark isn’t merely tone-deaf, it’s also un-conservative. The standard conservative argument is that a conservative economic agenda will help everyone…. Had Mitt Romney picked up his conservatism sooner, perhaps he would know these arguments by heart.
McCormack wasn’t alone. Michelle Malkin was dismayed, as was The American Spectator and Rush Limbaugh. One conservative joked that Romney came across as “a really bad Stephen Colbert parody of a Republican,” while Jonah Goldberg simply asked, “What is wrong with this guy?”
It’s probably not what the Romney campaign wanted to see the morning after its big win in Florida.
For his part, the former governor insisted the quote wasn’t as ridiculous if it’s considered in context. That’s problematic in a couple of ways: for one thing the context really doesn’t help, and for another, Romney is the same candidate who’s argued that context is irrelevant.
Perhaps the overarching point to keep in mind is that this wasn’t Romney’s first gaffe – which in turn, makes the right understandably uncomfortable when it comes to the general election.
To be sure, when compared against his GOP rivals, Romney seems pretty slick. After nearly 18 years as a politician, and more than five years as a near-constant presidential candidate, the former governor is clearly smoother and better prepared than his Republican opponents.
But that only tells us that he’s clearing a low bar.
Romney recently said making over $374,000 in speaking fees is “not very much” money. It followed Romney suggesting elected office is only for the rich, clumsily talking about his fondness for being able to fire people, demanding that talk of economic justice be limited to “quiet rooms,” accusing those who care about income inequality of “envy,” daring Rick Perry to accept a $10,000 bet, joking about being “unemployed,” arguing that those who slip into poverty are still middle class, and suggesting that Americans should somehow feel sorry for poor banks.
There was also that “corporations are people, my friend” classic.
As Jon Chait recently put it, the Republican frontrunner “has come to be defined, through a recurring series of off-the-cuff gaffes, as a callous, out-of-touch rich man.”
Jon wrote that two weeks ago. Romney keeps making it worse.