Romney actually wants to help 'poor people,' and the right isn't happy

Conservative pundits are ripping Mitt Romney over his stated willingness to fix the safety net for poor people who are 'falling through the cracks.' Why didn't he renounce dependency on government? they ask.

Gerald Herbert/AP
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, speaks at a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Wednesday.

It isn’t just the left that’s attacking Mitt Romney for saying he’s “not concerned about the very poor.” The right is also in high dudgeon – and not just because Mr. Romney made it easy (again) for his detractors to portray him as an out-of-touch rich guy.

From talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh to The Wall Street Journal editorial page, conservative pundits are coming down hard on the Republican presidential front-runner over the second part of Romney’s point: that the poor have a safety net, “and if there are people that are falling through the cracks, I want to fix that.”

A gasping Mr. Limbaugh could barely contain himself.

“The safety net is one of the biggest cultural problems we’ve got!” Limbaugh said. “We had better be worried about it just like we had better get angry over Obamacare. Obamacare is worth getting mad about. Mitt said that it wasn’t. This biz, ‘I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there’? Right, the safety net is contributing to the destruction of their humanity and their futures!"

The Journal was more measured, but just as negative.

“There's a half-century of creative conservative thinking on antipoverty transfer programs, and it's too bad Mr. Romney didn't mention some of it,” the paper editorialized. “One note to strike is about growing dependency on government and its corrosive effect on human dignity.”

Refundable tax credits, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, food stamps, and other programs for the poor are almost 50 percent more generous to individuals than they were in 2007, the editorial stated.

But Romney hasn’t exactly been trying to make it up to conservatives. In fact, in remarks to reporters on his campaign plane Wednesday, he reaffirmed his longstanding support for automatic increases to the federal minimum wage to keep up with inflation – a position that conflicts with Republican orthodoxy.  

Romney’s real point, he said throughout the day, has been to show concern for the middle class. “I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90 to 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling,” he said in his original remarks to CNN. “I’ll continue to take that message across the nation." 

Democrats, of course, are gleeful over the “poor” gaffe. The Democratic National Committee whipped up a quick Web ad and put out a statement decrying “a shallow attempt to show concern for the middle class.”

“His policy proposals make clear that he also isn’t very concerned about the middle class,” said the DNC, arguing that Romney’s tax plan provides only a modest tax cut for the middle class and a big one for the wealthy.

Newt Gingrich, fresh off his drubbing by Romney in the Florida primary Tuesday, seized on Romney’s gift and ran with it. At an event in Nevada Wednesday, the former speaker said he was "fed up with politicians in either party dividing Americans against each other. I am running to be the president of all of the American people, and I am concerned about all of the American people."

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