All political candidates — just like all non-politicians — make verbal gaffes.
On Monday, for example, Republicans jumped on President Obama for saying the word “interesting” when a woman asked him a question about her unemployed husband. (In that exchange, Obama asked the woman to send her husband’s resume to him.)
But in politics, what becomes damaging is when a verbal gaffe fits a pre-existing narrative. And that’s what happened today when Mitt Romney uttered the words: “I’m not concerned about the very poor.”
In an interview this morning, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien asked Romney about perceptions that he doesn’t understand the needs of average Americans. In response, Romney said:
This is a time people are worried. They’re frightened. They want someone who they have confidence in. And I believe I will be able to instill that confidence in the American people. And, by the way, I’m in this race because I care about Americans. 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, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling and I’ll continue to take that message across the nation.
When O’Brien followed on Romney’s I’m-not-concerned-about-the-very-poor comment, the presidential candidate responded:
The challenge right now – we will hear from the Democrat Party the plight of the poor, and – 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.
(In fact, according to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, the largest benefits of Romney’s tax plan go to the wealthy[.])
Romney’s comment about not being concerned about the poor is his latest statement that his rivals — either Democratic or Republican — could use to portray Romney as being out of touch with average Americans. Other examples:
— his $10,000 bet with Rick Perry (at December GOP debate)
— “I like being able to fire people,” even though he was referring to insurers (at speech in New Hampshire)
— “There were a couple of times I wondered if I was going to get a pink slip” (during remarks in New Hampshire)
— saying that questions about economic inequality are “about envy” (on “TODAY” back in January)
— and the ultimate release of his 2010 tax returns, which showed him paying an effective tax rate of less than 15%.