On Romney’s problematic comments about the “very poor”

In case you haven’t already, Mitt Romney, the day after a very strong showing in Florida, stuck his foot in his mouth during an interview on CNN by saying that he is “not concerned about the very poor”:

After winning the Florida primary, GOP presidential nominee hopeful Mitt Romney explains to CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien that he is focused on a particular portion of the American population in his campaign. Romney says, “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs a repair , I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich…. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”

O’Brien asked him to clarify his remarks saying, “There are lots of very poor Americans who are struggling who would say, ‘That sounds odd.’” Romney continues, “We will hear from the Democrat party, the plight of the poor…. You can focus on the very poor, that’s not my focus…. The middle income Americans, they’re the folks that are really struggling right now and they need someone that can help get this economy going for them.”

Both anti-Romney conservatives and Democrats reacted to the comments, using them as another example of Romney being out of touch. Other, more reasonable conservatives, are just concerned that it feeds perceptions about Romney. For example, the Washington Examiner’s Conn Carroll writes:

Out of context, the “I’m not concerned about the very poor” line feeds directly into Democrat efforts to portray Romney as an uncaring tool of the wealthy elite. You will see it in campaign commercials before the general election is over.

In context, Romney’s reasoning feeds directly into the left’s Occupy Wall Street narrative. Instead of saying that Romney cares about all Americans, Romney is essentially saying he only cares about 90 percent of Americans. The rich are doing fine and the poor are hopeless. He’ll only give his attention to those in the middle. This is just as divisive as the left’s “We are the 99%” rhetoric.

Worse, any true conservative would know that not only is our safety net horribly broken, but its dysfunction is a big part of the reason why the very poor are very poor. Government programs breed dependency. The Democratic Party’s War on Poverty helped destroy family structures in poor communities. Medicaid funding crowds-out private insurance. All three entitlement programs are bankrupting this country. It’s not “if” they need repair. They do need repair.

Realizing that the comments will be used by Obama’s campaign, Romney immediately tried to control the damage by claiming saying that the comments were being taken out of context and offering clarification.

Gingrich and Obama obviously have a lot to gain by slamming Romney on the comments. Most of us probably understand the point he was trying to make, Romney just made it in the worst possible way.

This was going to be a problem for Romney anyway. Regardless of these comments, Romney’s wealth is, unfortunately, a liability. It shouldn’t be, but thanks to the populist, know-nothing nature of Americans politics right now, it is. And it will continue to be for the forseeable future. During his State of the Union address, President Obama made it very clear that class warfare would be the heart and soul of his campaign for re-election. Romney’s comments on Wednesday just add to this.

Adding to his problems he tries to control the damage, Romney has hurt himself even more with conservatives by supporting automatic hikes in the minimum wage:

Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney renewed his support Wednesday for automatic increases in the federal minimum wage to keep pace with inflation, a position sharply at odds with traditional GOP business allies, conservatives and the party’s senior lawmakers.

“I haven’t changed my thoughts on that,” the former Massachusetts governor told reporters aboard his chartered campaign plane, referring to a stand he has held for a decade.

He did not say if he would ask Congress to approve the change if he wins the White House this fall.

Sigh. That’s disappointing, though not particularly surprising. As James Pethokoukis expains, Romney is very wrong here. No matter how well it plays with the public, it’s just bad policy:

It’s basic economics, really. Certainly a  ”conservative businessmen” should understand that if you raise the price of apples, people will buy fewer apples. If you raise the price on labor, firms will hire fewer workers or give them fewer hours.

Pethokoukis points to a 2006 review of data on the minimum wage that found that it hurts those it is intended to help. In other words, Romney is pandering.

I’ve been critical of anti-Romney conservatives because their alternatives, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, are also big government Republicans, though the seem to overlook this or are just ignorant of it. However, it’s hypocritical to point out the faults of Romney without acknowledging the equally glaring faults of other candidates.

With that said, Romney hasn’t exactly helped himself with anyone in the last couple of days. Yes, he won an important primary. But his comments about the poor are going to be hammered in the general election and his response won’t win him any points either.

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