Advice for Republican candidates: Care about the poor

CNNMoney Op-Ed: How conservatives can help the poor
CNNMoney Op-Ed: How conservatives can help the poor

Here's one prominent conservative's advice for the 2016 GOP candidates: Show that you care about the poor, too.

That was a problem for Mitt Romney and it cost him the White House three years ago, said Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. Romney's presidential campaign ran into trouble after a video surfaced of him deriding the 47% of Americans who pay no income tax for thinking the government was responsible for caring for them.

"The candidate got into trouble because people felt he didn't care about people like them...true or not," said Brooks, who believes Romney does care about the poor. "It was their impression ... that he was callous to the needs of people who were being left behind."

Brooks recently wrote a book, The Conservative Heart, which he hopes will reframe the way those on the right talk about poverty and opportunity. Americans realize that there is desperation and that mobility has largely stagnated, so Republicans need to provide solutions, he said

Instead of calling for shrinking safety net benefits like food stamps, conservatives should focus on ways to get people back on their feet, Brooks told CNNMoney.

His prescriptions center on increasing Americans' ability and incentives to work. These include reducing government regulation, such as the licensing required for jobs like hair braiding, and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit to single men. Currently, it is geared toward low-income parents.

While Brooks supports maintaining the safety net, he believes it should be limited to the truly indigent and come with a work requirement. He would also reform education to better train people for today's jobs and spur entrepreneurship.

In this election cycle, the Republican candidates must leave the impression -- and it should be the reality -- that they care about the less fortunate, even if they won't vote Republican, Brooks said. He is pleased that some are talking about ways to increase opportunity.

"The mainstream candidates have taken a much bigger interest in the bottom 50% of the income distribution," he said. "It's potentially a new day in Republican politics."

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