What is potentially the most dramatic of all electoral subplots seems to be building with virtually no public comment: even as Mitt Romney postures to swing voters as the newly re-emerged Moderate From Massachusetts, the shackles of a Republican congressional majority that once guaranteed the slippery Mitt couldn’t violate his various blood oaths to the conservative movement may not be so tight any more.
Richard Mourdock has taken another big step towards throwing away a safe Senate seat in Indiana. Todd Akin is showing no signs of recovery in Missouri. The latest polls are showing Tim Murphy beginning to overcome Linda McMahon’s money in Connecticut, and Elizabeth Warren building a consistent lead in Massachusetts. Angus King again looks safe in Maine. Sure, GOPers could run the table of close races in Montana, North Dakota, Virginia and Nevada, but overall, prospects for Senate control are looking grim.
So the conservative game-plan, articulated many months ago by Grover Norquist, whereby a newly elected GOP congressional majority would pass the Ryan Budget via reconciliation procedures and present about a decade or two worth of demolition work to a newly elected President Romney, who had promised to sign it–doesn’t look quite so healthy. And this scenario hasn’t been discussed much because pretty much everybody figured an election in which Mitt won would surely produce a Republican Senate, given the GOP’s massive advantages in the landscape of that chamber in this particular cycle.
With Election Day just 13 days off, it’s far too late for conservatives to publicly demand fresh Vows of Total Submission from Romney–vows he’s already made, for one thing, but that most conservatives didn’t really think they’d need with a Republican Congress. They’ll have to grin and pretend to admire the Moderate Mitt talk, barren as it actually is. But you have to figure that behind the scenes there’s some serious don’t-you-dare-cross-us talk going on, whether or not Romney has any intention of using a Democratic Senate as an excuse to go back on his promises to let the conservative movement run wild in 2013 in exchange for tolerating his nomination.
It’s an interesting dynamic to watch, though one that is obviously of academic interest if Mitt loses and conservatives quickly consign him to the ashbin of failed RINOs.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 24, 2012
There’s a strong case against Mitt Romney’s candidacy that has nothing to do with ideology. Which is probably a good thing, because no one really knows where Romney fits on the ideological spectrum, and if he really has any deeply held policy views at all.
My own sense, as I’ve written before, is that Romney’s party label tells us pretty much all we need to know about how he’d govern. He’s the nominee of a party that has adopted a far-right platform, and if he were to win he’d have little choice but to stick to it. Conservatives have long viewed Romney’s ideological credentials with skepticism; under a Romney presidency, they’d be perpetually on-guard for any hint of betrayal. Failure to govern as the conservative he swore he was during the GOP primaries would open a rift in the party and threaten to destroy his presidency.
But part of Romney’s appeal to swing voters is an assumption that he’s faking it – that he said the words he needed to say to win the Republican nomination, but that as president he’d revert to Massachusetts Mitt, the middle-of-the-road pragmatist who shunned culture war politics and wasn’t averse to working with Democrats. I have a hard time seeing this, but for the sake of argument, let’s say it actually is his intent. Even then – and even if you think this would work out OK for the country from a policy standpoint – there’s still a compelling reason to fear a Romney win on November 6.
The basic problem has to do with the behavior of Romney’s party over the past four years – reflexive opposition and obstruction rooted in electoral strategy, not ideology – and the lesson that politicians from both parties would draw if it results in a one-term Obama presidency.
Essentially, Republicans looked around when Obama was sworn-in and saw political opportunity. They had lost the White House and faced steep Democratic majorities in the Senate and House. In a way, this made them weak; they had no power to advance their own agenda. But it also gave them strength; they had considerable power to stall Obama’s agenda, and with economic anxiety rampant, it seemed logical to assume voters would blame the ruling party if things didn’t turn around quickly.
The result is that Republicans devoted themselves not to constructively criticizing Democratic proposals, crafting feasible alternatives, and accepting olive branches from the administration but instead to cranking up the hysteria and treating virtually every Obama initiative as a step toward socialism. They matched this with legislative obstruction, tying up scores nominations, forcing a record number of filibusters, and forcing Democrats to pass their agenda on party-line votes.
The calculation was that Republican cooperation would signal to the public that progress was being made and that Obama was living up to his promise to change Washington. But if they railed against him and his agenda instead, Republicans would create an air of controversy around every Obama proposal and bring his approval rating down that much faster.
Mostly cut out of this equation has been policy. Congressional Republicans bitterly deride the stimulus, even though it was loaded up with tax cuts and infrastructure spending that Republicans had traditionally supported. But where was their viable alternative? Healthcare is even more egregious. Obama spent months cultivating Republican support and adopted a basic framework – an individual mandate that would strengthen private insurers – that originated on the right. Not only did they unanimously oppose it; they’ve still failed to produce their own plan to replace the Affordable Care Act – despite promising to do so for more than two years. And while they did rally around Paul Ryan’s long-term budget blueprint, Republicans have had nothing to say on the country’s immediate jobs crisis, offering only tired rhetoric about high taxes and wasteful government. And, as Jonathan Bernstein points out, they’ve offered nothing substantive on foreign policy, settling instead for fake scandals and symbolism.
If Romney wins in two weeks, Republicans may well find themselves with complete control of Washington again. And they will have achieved it by doing nothing but opposing, attacking and obstructing Obama. As Norm Ornstein and Tom Mann explain in “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” this kind of conduct by an opposition party works in parliamentary democracies like Britain. But our system isn’t designed for it. If Republicans win back power with it, though, there’s no reason to think they won’t behave the same way again the next time Democrats claim power. For that matter, it’s possible Democrats will begin to behave the same way.
This last point is worth considering for a moment. There’s a school of thought that Democrats will always be open to entreaties from a Republican president, for the simple reason that they believe in an active and robust government. So, for instance, that George W. Bush found Democratic support – sometimes significant Democratic support – during his first term, even though Democrats were still furious over how he’d won the presidency. But if Republicans succeed in making Obama a one-termer, who’s to say how Democrats will react – and if their party base will even allow any cooperation with President Romney? (Again, this is accepting the idea that Romney would even try to reach out.)
Elections shape the behavior of political parties. Recall that Bill Clinton got more cooperation from Republicans as he beat them (first with the 1995 shutdown, then in the 1996 election), to the point that Republicans ultimately went looking for their own Clinton in 2000, keying in on the affable George W. Bush and his compassionate conservatism. The GOP’s post-2008 behavior has not been healthy for our system of government. It’s troubling to think what might happen if it’s rewarded.
By: Steve Kornacki, Salon, October 22, 2012
To a skeptic, the most remarkable aspect of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has been how so flexible a politician can represent so dogmatic a party. Contemporary Republicanism is ideological to its core. Everybody who watched the GOP primary debates between Mitt and the Seven Dwarves (or were there nine? I forget) understands that there’s a black-and-white party line on almost every imaginable topic from tax policy to global warming.
Romney, on the other hand, appears to have no firm convictions at all. How anybody purports to know what the GOP candidate actually thinks about any issue other than the size of his own offshore bank accounts beggars my poor imagination. That most Republicans have temporarily persuaded themselves to trust him reflects mainly their fear and loathing of President Obama.
Equally remarkable, however, is the way the Obama campaign has let Romney get away with it. How can his evasiveness not be an issue? For that matter, how can it not be THE issue? Early on, a strategic decision was apparently made to depict the GOP candidate as the “severely conservative” politician he affected to be during the Republican primaries.
Well, it ain’t working. So many and so various are the GOP candidate’s self-contradictions and reinventions that the proverbial “low information” citizens who appear to constitute much of the swing vote are pretty much free to imagine any Mitt Romney that strikes their fancy.
Maybe it’s unpatriotic to say so, but an awful lot of people who manage their personal affairs competently enough simply refuse to understand the most elementary facts when they’re part of a political argument.
Sometimes you have to tell them a story. It helps if that story connects to something close to home; something they’ve had to think about realistically in their own lives.
Such as, what happens if you lose your health insurance and then get sick? Millions live in fear of this every day.
CBS News’ Scott Pelley recently asked Romney a simple question on 60 Minutes: “Does the government have a responsibility to provide health care to the 50 million Americans who don’t have it today?”
“Well, we do provide care for people who don’t have insurance,” Romney allowed. “If someone has a heart attack, they don’t sit in their apartment and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care.”
“That’s the most expensive way to do it,” Pelley observed. Indeed, government figures show the average emergency room visit costs $922, vs. $199 for a doctor’s office visit.
Nor is it free. People do know that. Under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act signed by President Reagan, hospitals must treat sick and injured patients regardless of their ability to pay. A civilized society can do no less; much less one that hopes to head off deadly epidemics.
But the law doesn’t say the hospital can’t perform what’s cynically called a “wallet biopsy” and send you a bill. Indeed, many states allow hospitals to hire collection agencies, garnish wages and seize assets in pursuit of payment. For this reason, many people stay away until they’re at death’s door.
Others abuse the privilege and stick the rest of us with the bill.
Back in 2006, the politician Bill Clinton calls “Moderate Mitt” recognized the problem. Hewrote a Wall Street Journal column objecting to the way deadbeats game the system.
“By law, emergency care cannot be withheld,” he wrote. “Why pay for something you can get free? Of course, while it may be free for them, everyone else ends up paying the bill, either in higher insurance premiums or taxes.”
Writing in Time, Kate Pickert catches Moderate Mitt as recently as 2008, explaining the conservative origins of “Romneycare” in Massachusetts.
“They shouldn’t be allowed just to show up at the hospital and say somebody else should pay for me, so we said no more free riders… We said if you can afford insurance, then either have the insurance or get a health savings account, pay your own way, but no more free ride… I think it’s the conservative approach—to make sure that people who can afford insurance are getting it at their expense, not at the expense of the taxpayers or the government. That, I consider a step towards socialism.”
Ah, but then came “Obamacare,” basically Romneycare with a less expensive per capita price tag. Yesterday’s conservative solution turned into today’s Bolshevism. Severely Conservative Mitt played along.
So what would Romney do if elected?
Who knows? To paraphrase the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus: You can never encounter the same Mitt Romney twice. Whatever he says today, he’ll say something different tomorrow.
Here’s the question President Obama should be asking: Would you buy a used health insurance policy from this man?
By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, October 17, 2012
As he tries to engineer a comeback in this week’s presidential debate, President Obama needs to recognize two things. First, when it comes to politics, Mitt Romney treats himself as a product, not a person. Second, Republicans cannot defend their proposals in terms that are acceptable to a majority of voters.
You can imagine Romney someday saying: “Politicians are products, my friend.” There’s no other way to explain why a candidate would seem to believe he can alter what he stands for at will. His campaign has been an exercise in identifying which piece of the electorate he needs at any given moment and adjusting his views, sometimes radically, to suit this requirement.
In that respect, Romney does Richard Nixon one better. When Nixon was looking to revive his career in the 1968 campaign, the terribly scarred veteran of so many political wars realized his old persona wouldn’t sell. And so he created what came to be known as the “New Nixon” — thoughtful, statesmanlike and tempered. The operation worked until Nixon’s old self got him into trouble.
But manufacturing the New Nixon took years of painstaking effort. New Romneys appear on a monthly, weekly and sometimes daily basis. Thus did Romney move far to the right on immigration last year because he needed to dispatch nomination rival Rick Perry, a moderate on that one issue. Since then, Romney has been trying to backtrack to appease Latino voters.
During the same nomination battle, Romney abruptly changed his tax policy to placate the supply-side-Wall-Street-Journal-Grover-Norquist axis in the GOP. Romney’s initial tax proposal was relatively modest. The right wasn’t happy. No problem, said Romney, and out came his new tax plan that included a 20 percent cut in income tax rates, “rate cuts” being a term of near-religious significance to supply-siders.
Romney pointedly asserted (again, in the primaries) that he wanted the tax cut to go to everyone, “including the top 1 percent.” But this doesn’t sell to swing voters now, especially after the leaked video in which Romney wrote off 47 percent of Americans as incorrigibly dependent. So in the first debate, Romney tried to pretend that he didn’t want to cut rich people’s taxes. He reassured us that “I’m not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people.” (By the way, he could cut taxes for the rich a lot and still keep their “share” of the government’s overall tax take the same.)
And then there’s abortion, an issue about which you have to wonder if Romney cares at all. Without much effort, you can find video online in which Romney declares with passion and conviction that he is absolutely committed to a woman’s right to choose — and video in which he declares with equal passion and conviction that he is absolutely opposed to abortion and committed to the right to life. Just recently, Romney moved again, offering this shameless gem of obfuscation to the Des Moines Register editorial board: “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.” There is no candidate I am familiar with who has tried to have as many positions on abortion in one lifetime as Mitt Romney.
But there’s an underlying reason for Romney’s shape-shifting. It’s the same reason Rep. Paul Ryan always resorts to impressive-sounding budget speak and mathematical gobbledygook to evade explaining the impact of his budgets on actual human beings.
Romney, Ryan and the entire right know that their most deeply held belief — the one on which they won’t compromise — is rejected by the vast majority of Americans. That’s their faith that every problem in the economy and in society can be solved by throwing more money at rich people through tax cuts.
Vice President Biden kept Ryan on the defensive during most of Thursday night’s debate precisely because he refused to let anything distract him from driving this central point home. Without pause and without mercy, Biden kept bringing viewers back to the obsession of the current Republican Party with “taking care of only the very wealthy.”
Obama doesn’t have to look angry or agitated in this week’s debate. He simply needs to invite voters to see that Romney, the product, will give them no clue as to what Romney, the person, might do as president. Romney keeps changing the packaging because he knows that the policies inside the box are not what voters are looking for.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 14, 2012
“It’s not easy to debate a liar,” complained an email from one observer of the first presidential debate – and there was no question about which candidate he meant. Prevarication, falsification, fabrication are all familiar tactics that have been employed by Mitt Romney without much consequence to him ever since he entered public life, thanks to the inviolable taboo in the mainstream media against calling out a liar (unless, of course, he lies about sex).
Yes, President Obama ought to have been better prepared for Romney’s barrage of blather and bull. The Republican’s own chief advisor, Eric Fehrnstrom, had glibly described the “Etch-a-Sketch” strategy they would deploy in the general election, to make swing voters forget the “severe conservative” of the primaries. Romney executed that pivot on Wednesday night, but he could do so only by spouting literally dozens of provably fraudulent assertions — which various diligent fact-checkers proceeded to debunk.
Knowing that he is vulnerable on taxation and the budget for many reasons, including his own peculiar and secretive tax history, Romney made several contradictory claims regarding his economic plan. He has no plan to lavish $5 trillion in tax breaks on the wealthy. He won’t cut taxes for the rich at all. He vowed to provide tax relief to the middle class and won’t increase their tax burden. He swore that his tax cuts would not increase the deficit.
Finally, he said that with all of that, he would grow the economy enough to shrink and eventually eliminate the deficit — without raising taxes on anyone. And he claimed that there are several studies proving he can fulfill all of these conflicting promises — even though he refuses to provide any specific tax proposals beyond a broad tax cut.
There is no study proving that Romney can do what he promised – and among his lies is his description of editorials in Tthe Wall Street Journal as “studies” of his plan. The most complete and unrefuted study of his claims remains the Tax Policy Center’s bipartisan report on the Romney plan, which shows that there is simply no way to pay for his $5 trillion, across-the-board tax cut without raising taxes on the middle class. None of the alternative studies he has cited proves otherwise – and some of them actually amass additional evidence that he is wrong.
Undoubtedly he knows all that. He knows that eliminating the estate tax, a mainstay of his plan, will benefit the rich enormously and almost nobody else.
He also knows that when he claims economic growth alone will erase the deficit, without raising taxes, he is inventing impossible numbers. As The National Memo’s Howard Hill demonstrated yesterday, the assumptions behind his claims are ridiculous. For the numbers to work, he would have to create not 12 million jobs, as he promised to do by 2016, but 162 million — more than the total current U.S. workforce. Or else the jobs created would have to pay more than $443,000 per year on average — which is even less likely than Rafalca winning the dressage medal at the next Summer Olympics.
At the same time, Romney accused the president of increasing the federal debt by an amount that is “almost as much…as all prior presidents combined.” This charge, which he leveled before, is patently false and by now Romney must know it. The prior debt, mostly run up by George W. Bush and his Republican congressional cronies, stood above $10 trillion when Obama took office. The debt is now just over $16 trillion, mostly due to costs incurred by Bush and by Obama’s successful effort to prevent a Depression.
Having essentially disavowed the health care reforms that were his sole significant achievement in his single term in elected office, the former Massachusetts Governor suddenly claimed ownership of Romneycare. Presumably, this will make him more appealing to swing voters, too. But he still wants to do away with Obamacare, except for the parts that are popular.
For this maneuver, he must misrepresent his own proposed federal health care overhaul. He says there will be no change to Medicare for current beneficiaries, but repealing the Affordable Care Act will deprive them of free preventive care, increase their costs for prescription drugs, and do irreparable harm to Medicaid, which provides assisted care for nine million destitute Medicare patients.
But Romney has been lying about the Affordable Care Act for years, according to his own former advisor Jonathan Gruber, the chief intellectual architect of Romneycare. Nearly a year ago, Gruber complained that Romney’s attempt to draw a sharp distinction between the Massachusetts legislation and Obamacare was phony. He told Capital New York in November 2011 that “they’re the same fucking bill. He just can’t have his cake and eat it too. Basically, you know, it’s the same bill. He can try to draw distinctions and stuff, but he’s just lying.”
Lying again? Indeed, the falsehoods flowed on every conceivable subject. Concerning energy, Romney claimed that “about half” of the renewable energy firms that received federal assistance under Obama administration programs went bankrupt — a claim that cannot be justified by any measure. Of the 28 firms that got federal loans or loan guarantees, three went under, representing under 11 percent — and less than 5 percent of the funds committed. (This assertion was so blatantly untrue that the Romney campaign withdrew it the next day.)
The examples cited above hardly exhaust the deep well of dishonesty in the Republican campaign. What Romney has done presents a fundamental challenge to the American political media. Will news outlets hold him accountable for baldly misleading voters? Are they capable of confronting his continuous mendacity with basic facts? Some have made a beginning, while others have scarcely tried. If that isn’t their responsibility, then they no longer have any purpose at all.
By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, October 5, 2012