WASHINGTON -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) said Thursday he was "jarred" by former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's infamous comments about poor Americans and the "47 percent." Walker, who is potentially mounting his own bid for president in 2016, told a conservative audience that in order to broaden its appeal, the Republican Party desperately needs to change its outlook toward those living in poverty and relying on government assistance.
"Most people in my state who are temporarily living in poverty, who are temporarily dependent on the government, don't want to be. It's not something they aspire to," Walker said during a panel at the American Enterprise Institute.
"I grew up in a small town," he added. "I don't ever remember anybody in my town, in my class, saying to me, 'Scott, when I grow up, some day when I get older, my dream is to become dependent on the government.' I don't remember that."
Walker's comments came in response to a question about where Republicans went wrong in their quest to win the White House in 2012. He said Romney was a "fine man [who] would have been a wonderful president," but was marred by poor advice over the course of his campaign.
In particular, Walker referred back to the leaked 47 percent video, recorded at a private fundraiser, in which Romney dismissed nearly half the country as "victims" who believe they are "entitled" to health care, food and housing. Romney was widely criticized for the comments, and the incident has since been regarded as one of the most pivotal moments of the 2012 election cycle.
Walker said those remarks, coupled with Romney's statement that he was "not concerned about the very poor," sent the wrong message to voters. With the latter statement, made in a televised interview, Romney was trying to make the case that he was focused on the middle class because social programs provided a "safety net" for the poor. The sound bite nonetheless became an attack point for Democrats in their bid to cast Romney as out of touch.
Walker said such moments amounted to a "missed opportunity" for Republicans to position themselves as wanting to lift individuals out of poverty. Instead, he said, they simply criticized what they consider to be government handouts.
"I think there was a great contrast that was completely overlooked," Walker said. "The easy way to define this is to say President Barack Obama and his allies … seem to measure success in America today by how many people are dependent on the government, by how many people are on food stamps, on unemployment and Medicaid. That's how they measure success."
"We should measure success by just the opposite, by how many people are no longer dependent on the government," he continued. "Not because we pushed them out to the street or out to the curb, but because we understand that true freedom and prosperity does not come from the mighty hand of the government."
A 2012 autopsy report commissioned by the Republican National Committee earlier this year offered similar advice to Walker's. In a nearly 100-page assessment of the GOP's election year failures, authors urged the party to thaw in its rigid opposition to spending on social programs and be more inclusive of minorities.
But Republicans have struggled in their attempts to rebrand themselves over the past year, prompting one conservative leader to say the GOP has once again turned away from the poor.