Earlier today, I said that only Mitt Romney could derail Mitt Romney this month. Did my prediction come true already? The media and Romney detractors have jumped all over this statement to CNN in which Romney says that he is “not concerned about the very poor,” but that slice of Romney’s statement is entirely misleading — although it’s certainly not adept for a front-runner:
The Washington Post, to its credit, quotes the entire statement rather than just parsing out the controversial fragment:
In an interview with CNN Wednesday morning that should have been a Florida victory lap, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney made a fumble that could give rivals an attack ad sound bite.
Asked about his economic plan, Romney said repeatedly that he was not concerned with very poor Americans, but was focused instead on helping the middle class.
Romney explained that he was confident that food stamps, housing vouchers, Medicaid and other assistance would keep the poor afloat — he pledged to fix holes in that safety net “if it needs repair.” He repeated past statements that his main focus is the middle class because those people, in his opinion, have been hardest hit by the recession (President Obama also has focused many of his efforts on the middle class).
But Romney’s awkward phrasing could give fuel to critics who argue that he does not empathize with the poorest Americans.
Well, only if the statement gets taken out of context, where Romney clearly commits to keeping safety-net programs in place for the very poor. Unfortunately for Romney, there won’t be any easier prediction this year than that the truncated quote will end up in attack ads all year long, taken out of context. The only question will be whether those attacks are limited to Democrats, or if other Republicans will join in on the fun.
In that sense, this is still a gaffe and a worrisome misstep for someone who has been on the campaign trail as long as Romney. Candidates are supposed to express concern for everyone, not just one particular class, which gets to the more substantial error Romney makes. As author Brad Thor pointed out on Twitter, the focus should be on fixing the economy so that everyone benefits rather than playing one class against another, as Barack Obama has done. Romney fell into a class-warfare trap, one he should have seen coming. It’s not fatal by any means, but Romney had better sharpen himself more for a general election campaign.