Construction Literary Magazine

Fall 2020

Mitt’s Gaffe

Mitt’s Gaffe

Photograph via the AP

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 America, the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.

That’s Mitt Romney, the morning after winning the Republican primary in Florida. Probably a simple, non-incendiary, “I’m excited to go to Nevada next!” would have sufficed. But that’s what Romney said, and that’s what everyone in the political world is talking about today.

The focus, predictably, has been on the whole part where Romney said he doesn’t care about poor people. But why? Surely not because Romney revealed new or interesting information about his policy goals. Is there really anyone out there, Republican or Democrat, who thought that a President Romney would champion the underclass?

No, what Romney said about the poor is perhaps the best example yet of what is known as a Kinsley gaffe, named for longtime journalist Michael Kinsley, who noted that a “gaffe is when a politician tells the truth.” This is why no one is talking about the policy implications—we already knew, really, that Romney doesn’t care about the poor; he just made the mistake of saying it aloud—they’re talking about whether his gaffe will affect him politically. So will it? Possibly. This is certainly more ammo for President Obama when it comes to stereotyping Romney, as part of Obama’s offensive on Wall Street and inequality that I discussed last week.

But as anyone who follows politics knows, there is unfortunately nothing shocking about what Romney said. Take this companion quote: “Too often, the focus is on the top 10 percent, who don’t need it, or the bottom 10 percent. The broad middle is forgotten.”

Sounds nearly identical to what Romney said, no? So who said it?

Try Chuck Schumer, the liberal New York senator. Three years ago. In The Atlantic. If you don’t remember the outcry, it’s because there was none. Granted, Schumer did not say it while running for president. Also, Schumer actually does seem to pursue policies that will help the middle class. This is not the case for Romney. His gaffe about the poor obscured the fact that his basic premise—that he will focus on helping the middle class—is actually at odds with his proposed tax plan. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimated that a disproportionate share of his tax cuts will go to the extremely wealthy. Meanwhile, President Romney would allow several of Obama’s cuts to expire, meaning that some who earn less than $40,000 will actually pay more in taxes than they do now.

And from Romney’s perspective, why shouldn’t this be his plan? Poor people are not going to vote for him. It is the ultra-rich who are financing his campaign. If there is anything that should have gotten us in a tizzy this week, it’s the fact that Romney more or less flat-out bought his win in the Sunshine State. But when it came to this, although many noted it, no one really batted an eye.

As for Newt Gingrich, who could possibly predict what comes next? Anthony Resnick noted in his Construction column yesterday that Gingrich’s new rally cry after his collapse in Florida is: 46 states to go! I’d like to see Newt play this the whole way out, without regard for his electoral chances. (7 states to go! Only I stand between us and apocalypse!) Yet Newt’s math is off; he failed to qualify for the ballot in Virginia. Is it therefore possible that Gingrich is counting the moon as one of the 46 remaining states? I will say this: if the moon gets statehood by Super Tuesday, Newt will probably have a good chance at securing the lunar delegates.