Independent fact checkers have not been particularly kind to Mitt Romney since Wednesday’s first presidential debate in Denver. But one of the candidate’s claims turned out to be so far off the mark that he had to be corrected by his own aides — a fact not unnoticed by the Obama campaign.
Romney’s claim was this, part of what turned out to be a highly detailed discussion of health care: “No. 1, pre-existing conditions are covered under my plan.”
By pre-existing conditions, Romney was talking about the ability for people who already have medical problems — diabetes, for example, or even things like allergies — to buy health insurance. Starting in 2014, the federal Affordable Care Act says insurance companies can no longer reject people with bad health histories — nor can they charge them more.
That’s already true in Massachusetts under the law Romney signed as governor. But Romney’s current plan for the nation, should he be elected president, wouldn’t necessarily guarantee that same protection.
“Actually, governor, that isn’t what your plan does,” President Obama told Romney at the debate Wednesday. “What your plan does is to duplicate what’s already the law.”
The president was referring to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. It’s a 1996 law that says, among other things, that once you have health insurance you can continue to purchase it, as long as there’s no interruption in your coverage of more than 63 days.
But Romney’s plan wouldn’t guarantee that people who don’t have coverage now will be able to buy it. Top Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said as much in the so-called spin room to several reporters right after the debate, and again on Thursday on CNN.
“The governor will repeal Obamacare and he will return to the states the power to control their own health care futures,” Fehrnstrom told Wolf Blitzer. “Look, what works in Massachusetts may not work in Texas. It was wrong for the president to take the broad outlines of the Massachusetts plan and impose it as a dictate from Washington on every state in the nation.”
That correction was gladly picked up by the Obama forces. At a rally Friday in Northern Virginia, Obama took credit for one of the few times he actually called Romney out during the debate.
“Gov. Romney was fact checked by his own campaign. That’s rough,” the president told a cheering crowd at George Mason University. “Even they know his plan would take away coverage for tens of millions of Americans.”
This isn’t the first time a Romney statement has had to be walked back by his staff when it comes to health care. In recent weeks he’s misstated or switched positions on abortion and on Medicaid. But at 67 million viewers, this was by far the largest audience that’s heard something different from what the candidate’s position actually is.
By: Julie Rovner, NPR, October 6, 2012
Are prominent conservatives panicking about Mitt Romney’s campaign? It sorta looks that way, today. The Wall Street Journal editorial board — the men who ensure that even educated, newspaper-reading rich conservatives are successfully misinformed on all the major issues of the day — has a big “Mitt Romney is blowing it” editorial today (published online late Wednesday) that seems designed to stir up as much trouble as possible for the candidate.
The first line is hilarious and patently untrue: “If Mitt Romney loses his run for the White House, a turning point will have been his decision Monday to absolve President Obama of raising taxes on the middle class.”
In reality, Mitt Romney will definitely accuse Obama of raising taxes, even if he’s squishy on the “mandate is a tax” line. Also, it’s early July, it’s guaranteed to be an incredibly close race and, honestly, the only people who will notice whether Romney decides to declare the mandate a tax are people who have been paying close enough attention to the race to have already made up their minds.
But the point is actually just to hammer Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom for being sort of feckless and horrible at messaging, and to let the Romney campaign know that the Journal will be telling them which things to say, thank you very much. (The conservative press is much better at bullying its candidates into adopting particular strategies and policies than the liberal press, which has approximately zero power over candidates and elected officials.)
This latest mistake is of a piece with the campaign’s insular staff and strategy that are slowly squandering an historic opportunity. Mr. Obama is being hurt by an economic recovery that is weakening for the third time in three years. But Mr. Romney hasn’t been able to take advantage, and if anything he is losing ground.
The Romney campaign thinks it can play it safe and coast to the White House by saying the economy stinks and it’s Mr. Obama’s fault. We’re on its email list and the main daily message from the campaign is that “Obama isn’t working.” Thanks, guys, but Americans already know that. What they want to hear from the challenger is some understanding of why the President’s policies aren’t working and how Mr. Romney’s policies will do better.
Then! The Journal compares Romney to John Kerry. So mean!
Following this explosive editorial, the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol, America’s wrongest and dumbest partisan pundit, weighed in with his me-too “Romney’s strategy is all wrong” column, which has the very troll-y headline “Dukakis, Kerry … Romney?” Kristol wants to hear policy specifics from Romney, which is an awful idea, frankly, because Republican policies are pretty much universally unpopular once you go into actual detail, and Romney is correct in believing that his best hope is to remain as vague as possible on as many issues as possible.
But the argument is about a broader fear that a winnable election is slipping through the Republican Party’s grasp, and if that is indeed happening, Romney and his campaign are going to be blamed for letting it happen. As Josh Marshall says, columnists and pundits actually usually don’t have much of an idea what’s going on in a campaign. Conservatives are frustrated that Romney’s not kicking ass in the polls, and if he isn’t, it’s because his stupid campaign (made up of longtime Romney associates, for the most part) is stupid and bad.
It’s possible, though, that the Romney campaign is doing the absolute best it can running against an incumbent president who remains broadly personally popular. And it’s probable that Romney, for all his flaws, was the best candidate to face Obama this year. Buyer’s remorse aside, does anyone honestly think Jeb Bush or Mitch Daniels or Tim Pawlenty or Chris Christie would be performing better right now?
As I said, the words of the WSJ editorial page carry weight, so we’ll see if Romney (who has already called the mandate a tax) makes some sort of gesture toward “shaking up” his campaign (which would lead, naturally, to headlines about his campaign being in disarray — it’s lose-lose!), but these guys are actually just whining about how it’s harder to beat Obama than they have always thought it ought to be.
By: Alex Pareene, Salon, July 5, 2012
By sheer coincidence, my nine-year-old begged me just the other day to buy him one of those iconic toys from my own childhood, the Etch-A-Sketch, which is manufactured by that equally quirky and iconic toymaker, Ohio Art.
And so, thanks to my son, I am now equipped to pile on like everyone else onto Mitt Romney’s PR wingman, Eric Fehrnstrom.
Fehrnstrom, as by now everyone with access to YouTube surely knows, famously replied when asked by CNN’s John Fugelsang how Romney intended to pivot from the Republican primary to the general election: “Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch-A-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”
It was a stunning, perhaps catastrophic mistake. Rachel Maddow called it the gaffe of what has been a gaffe-laden campaign. Not only was Fehrnstrom’s answer supercilious and snarky. It also fed into one of the central narratives against Romney in this campaign, namely that he is an unprincipled fraud who will do or say anything to be president. And now Romney’s top aide has said he agrees. On the record!
Eric Fehrnstrom is living every press secretary’s and publicity agent’s worst nightmare. He’s not only given his guy’s enemies a talking point they can use against him. He’s given them a talking point with props!
I never much cared for the Etch-A-Sketch myself. I quickly tired of the toy once I discovered the best I could do by twisting its two white knobs was to produce a tedious succession of boxes and big city skylines. But somehow I am guessing that between now and next November Ohio Art’s signature product will be the toy the political world just can’t put down.
As Timothy Noah of New Republic says, Fehrnstrom may have just committed “America’s first multi-platform gaffe.”
What makes it so new and different, says Noah, “is its extreme ripeness for visual exploitation at the virtual dawn of a new era of social networking on proliferating varieties of gadgets.”
Normally when a candidate or top aide commits a gaffe, says Noah, it enters some vast “echo chamber” either of words or images and is quickly forgotten as other words and images overwhelm and take its place.
But Noah says the Etch-A-Sketch gaffe is different. It provides endless possibilities for parody and visual mockery using an image familiar to most Americans to say something about Mitt Romney that has the virtue of being fundamentally true: that he’s a fake, a fraud, untrue, what you see today is not what you get tomorrow. And that, says Noah, is a “fatally candid” combination.
As it turns out, I know Eric Fehrnstrom pretty well from our days in the Massachusetts State House Press Gallery when Eric covered politics for the right-leaning Boston Herald when Mike Dukakis was Governor.
Our paths crossed again when Eric was State Treasurer Joe Malone’s press guy in the early 1990s and again when Fehrnstrom ran the communications shop for then-Governor Romney.
I’m also guessing that despite the sort of grim sympathy a herd of wildebeest has for one of its own being devoured by a pride of lions, Massachusetts own political herd is no doubt watching the hard-ball playing Fehrnstrom being devoured today and is thinking to itself: This couldn’t be happening to a nicer wise-guy.
But Fehrnstrom is simply too experienced a media pro for me to believe his epic gaffe occurred just because he’d let down his guard while savoring the satisfaction of another primary win. Something this big and stupid has to be cultural.
And in reaching for the Etch-a-Sketch metaphor, Fehrnstrom was only doing instinctively what the Republican Party has been doing deliberately ever since George W. Bush ended his disastrous eight-year reign, which is to wipe the historical slate clean and forget all about it so that everything that’s gone wrong before or since can be blamed on Barack Obama.
Fehrnstrom’s cynical response on CNN is nothing more than of a piece with a Republican presidential campaign and a Republican Party that is steeped in cynicism and betrays a contempt for facts, a contempt for truth, a contempt for principled consistency, a contempt for American traditions and institutions and a P.T. Barnum-like contempt for the average American voter that you’d expect from a party that thinks it’s found the secret to creating its own reality.
By: Ted Frier, Open Salon, Salon, March 22, 2012