Mitt and Po’ Folks

They say a “gaffe” is when a politician inadvertently tells the truth, and Mitt Romney made a pretty big one this morning on CNN when he told Soledad O’Brien:

“I’m not concerned about the very poor…. 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.”

Now like everyone in politics, Mitt knows “the very poor” don’t tend to vote in big numbers, and when they do, they tend to vote Democratic. He also knows a lot of people who are objectively poor like to think of themselves as middle-class. And on top of that, he knows that the fidelity of his party to the interests of middle-class Americans is perpetually suspect.

But Mitt, Mitt, you don’t say these things out loud. Indeed, as your consultants will tell you when they stop gnashing their teeth at this remark, Republicans are supposed to respond to any question about the distributional effects of their policies by intoning “class warfare” and changing the subject.

It’s this tone-deafness that makes a lot of Republicans nervous about Mitt Romney as a general-election candidate. He often simply forgets which memo to bring up in his memory banks when he’s on the spot. This time, it was the polling memo, and that was a mistake.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.