Eight months before “the 47 percent” became shorthand for Mitt Romney’s seeming lack of empathy for struggling Americans, the former Massachusetts governor made smaller headlines with a another ill-considered remark, which also bolstered perceptions that he was dismissive of the nation’s underclass.
The morning after his crucial victory in the Florida primary, Romney appeared on CNN and paraphrased a line from his stump speech that he had been delivering for months.
“I’m not concerned about the very poor,” he said. “We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.”
Amid the blowback that resulted, Lawrence Mead — a renowned expert on poverty, whose ideas played an instrumental role in welfare reform during the 1990s — offered to help clean up the mess. Mead had previously served as an adviser to George W. Bush’s presidential campaign on the issue — a role that he was willing to reprise on behalf of the 2012 GOP nominee, he suggested in an email to a Romney campaign official.
“They didn’t react at all [to the offer], and I think it’s because they just didn’t want to address the issue,” recalled Mead, who currently teaches a class at NYU on the politics of poverty and welfare. “They wanted to have it go away, and it was [Paul] Ryan who gave that one speech where there was some attention paid, but it was never a prominent issue in the campaign.”