Mitt Romney’s post-Florida interview where he expressed a lack of concern about the “very poor” was an instant-clanker, certain to be revived alongside similar only slightly out-of-context quotes about Romney liking being able to fire people and the personhood of corporations.
But to many a conservative ear, that soundbyte wasn’t the worst part of his answer. That fact speaks to the difficulty Romney will continue to have in wooing his party’s conservative base – and provides a window into the animating philosophy of a candidate who’s running on his Mr. Fix-It credentials.
The part that really grated on conservative activists and thought leaders was his rationale for why he’s not particularly concerned about the plight of the poor. Romney went on to explain – and explain, and explain as the day went on – that the poor are and should be taken care of by the “safety net” of federal programs.
“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,” Romney said.
To many conservatives, this is simply the wrong answer for a Republican to give. It’s Democrats who rely on a social safety net, they argue. Republicans who believe in pro-growth conservative policies like to say their ideas will help everyone and don’t divide based on class, much less rely on government programs.
“This is bad,” conservative columnist and commentator Charles Krauthammer said Wednesday night on Fox News Channel’s “Special Report.” “The real problem here is that he doesn’t have a fluency with conservative ideas. … The moral case for conservative economics is that our policies are going to help everybody, including the poor.”
“The poor, after all, have food stamps and Medicaid,” added conservative blogger Erick Erickson. “But don’t worry. If the safety net is broken, Patrician Mitt Romney will fix it so the poor can stay comfortably poor.”
Tweeted anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist: “Hey Romney: Conservatives care about the poor. They are first victims of statism. We want them to have jobs, savings, property: become Rs.”
Romney remains overwhelmingly likely to win the Republican nomination. But the Republican base remains overwhelmingly likely to be suspicious of Romney, because of an ideology that seems rooted in his background as a problem-solver far more than in conservative doctrine and principles.
This may help Romney in the general election. But his rivals are pouncing in the primary.
“What it shows of Gov. Romney is that he looks at the poor differently. That being poor is a disability,” Rick Santorum said Wednesday.
Newt Gingrich today was even more direct: “I’m for replacing the safety net with a trampoline.”