Fresh off a dominant win in the Florida presidential primary, Mitt Romney managed to unload a clip of .45 ammunition in both feet on national television this morning. In an interview with Soledad O'Brien, Romney said the following (emphasis added):
Mitt Romney: “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, and I’ll continue to take that message across the nation.”
Soledad O’Brien: “I know I said last question. You said I’m not concerned about the very poor because they have a safety net. And I think there are lots of very poor Americans who are struggling who would say that sounds odd. Can you explain that?”
Mitt Romney: “Well, you had to finish the sentence, Soledad. I said I’m not concerned about the very poor that have the safety net, but if it has holes in it, I will repair them. The challenge right now — we will hear from the Democrat Party the plight of the poor. And there’s no question, it’s not good being poor, and we have a safety net to help those that are very poor. But my campaign is focused on middle income Americans. My campaign — 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, retirees living on Social Security, people who can’t find work, folks that have kids getting ready to go to college. These are the people who have been most badly hurt during the Obama years. We have a very ample safety net, and we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it. But we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers, we have programs to help the poor.”
While Romney's intent was clearly to reiterate his focus on the middle class, which has suffered greatly in recent years due to economic troubles and rising unemployment, he committed not one but two major fouls in that statement (as well as a third that is only slightly less severe). First, he committed the cardinal sin of saying, in just so many words, "I’m not concerned about the very poor." Context be damned, Romney has now provided a direct quote that can and will be used against him ad nauseum for the remainder of his participation in this election. Second, and perhaps worse, he said in almost so many words that not only does he not care about the "very poor," but the Democrat Party does.
Take a minute to let that sink in. The presumptive nominee for the Republican presidential nomination, in a class warfare/economy/jobs election, said on national television that he doesn't care about the very poor in our country, but that the opposition party does. As @Slublog noted on Twitter, "The only thing that could have made that Romney quote worse is if he ended it by laughing manically and lighting a cigar with a $100 bill."
The fact he didn't mean precisely that is immaterial; you simply can't say that in a political campaign, particularly when you're (a) already filthy rich (and have never spent a day of your life in the middle class, let alone as a 'poor' individual), and (b) running for the top position in a party that is already portrayed by media and opposition as being unconcerned with any Americans outside of the super rich. Again, the fact that (b) is entirely inaccurate is immaterial; just as every possible Rick Perry gaffe contributed to the narrative that he was incoherent, inarticulate, and mentally challenged, every statement by Mitt Romney that could possibly be construed as being out of touch with (and unsupportive of) "the 99%" adds to the narrative that the rich, white, out-of-touch GOP is preparing to nominate a rich, white, out-of-touch automaton to lead its party and the country.
In an election that will be focused on employment and the plight of working (and out-of-work) Americans, neither Romney nor the GOP can afford to provide any additional fuel for that narrative. In this case, all he had to say was something to the effect of, "My focus is on the millions of Americans who are suffering from the Obama economy." The fact that Romney instead provided direct ammunition for negative advertising, while talking up his opposition's support for the same poor he disavowed any concern for, is a major issue.
Of more minor concern is the fact that Romney twice addressed the problems with America's social safety nets in conditional terms – if the safety net has holes in it, he'll fix it. That 'if' should grate those who have spent the last several months, years, and decades warning of the major issues facing our entitlement programs and safety nets (not least of which is cost, like the $55,000,000,000,000.00 that medicare and social security are currently in debt over the coming 75 year horizon), and proposing solutions to address them.
Of greater concern, though, are the shots Mitt Romney fired into his own feet this morning with his declaration that he doesn't care about the poor, but that the Democrats do – a simply inexcusable error.
NOTE: Even unofficial Romney campaign spokesperson (and official Romney shill) Jennifer Rubin, who has a typically incoherent response at the Washington Post, can't explain away such an egregious unforced error on her candidate's part. Further, Rubin's final line, ostensibly addressed to "the media," is the height of irony. She writes, "Perhaps a less crazed approach to covering Romney would restore their credibility." Ah, self-awareness.