Romney somersaults on to the middle ground

October 4, 2012

Do you recall just seven months ago when Romney campaign aide Eric Fehrnstrom let slip that having won the Republican primaries, his candidate would “shake it up and restart it all over again” as if wiping clean an Etch-a-Sketch screen? Romney did just that last night. From a standing start Romney executed a perfect backward somersault, landing with both feet slap-bang in front of a bemused president, who appeared quite taken aback that his rival should plant his feet firmly in the middle ground where elections are won and lost.

Take Romney’s view of regulating the market. In his personal manifesto No Apology, Romney trod a careful path, suggesting that, like his primary opponents who unwaveringly support the untrammeled free market, he was wary of overregulating business. “Excessive regulation slows the creation of new businesses and the expansion of existing businesses,” he wrote. On his website, he promises to “act swiftly to tear down the vast edifice of regulations the Obama administration has imposed on the economy.”

But in Denver last night, Romney changed his tune, suggesting that he had always been in favor of regulation, whatever impression he may have given in the past. “Regulation is essential,” he declared. “You can’t have a free market work if you don’t have regulation … Every free economy has good regulation.”

Last August, Romney told a roomful of Wall Streeters: “The extent of regulation in the banking industry has become extraordinarily burdensome following Dodd-Frank,” and said, “I’d like to repeal Dodd-Frank,” a carefully worded half-promise to remove regulations imposed on Wall Street in the aftermath of the 2008 collapse. Last night he amended his pledge. “There’s some parts of the Dodd-Frank that make all the sense in the world,” he said, and that rather than repeal it outright, he would “repeal it and replace it” with similar curbs on reckless business practices. Paul Ryan, who cites as an inspiration Ayn Rand, who thought all constraints on business were next to communism, must have been a little surprised at Romney’s brazen about-face.

Romney also wriggled on cutting taxes for the rich. In the primary debate in Rochester, Michigan, in November 2011, he was adamant he wanted to retain the Bush tax cuts, including tax breaks for the super-wealthy. Explaining that he didn’t want to raise taxes on anyone in the middle of a recession, he said: “That’s one of the reasons why we fought so hard to make sure the Bush tax cuts weren’t taken away by President Obama.” It was a refrain he had been repeating since running against John McCain in 2008. At a primary debate in Boca Raton in January 2008, he announced: “I support the Bush tax cuts … One way to [create more jobs] is by holding down taxes and making those tax cuts permanent.”

Last night there was no mention of the Bush tax cuts – indeed, no mention of George W. Bush at all, by Romney. “I do want to reduce the burden being paid by middle-income Americans,” Romney said. “And I – and to do that that also means that I cannot reduce the burden paid by high-income Americans,” a sure indication that Romney’s pollsters have found that loading taxes on the rich is popular.

In a debate ostensibly about economic policy, there was no mention of either John Maynard Keynes, whose ideas about stimulating the economy continue to guide Obama’s Treasury team, or Friedrich Hayek, another Ryan hero and the champion of pro-austerity “Austrian economics.” But though he dare not speak his name, Romney’s proposal last night for reducing the deficit was pure Keynes: Don’t cut too much too soon to tip the economy back into recession, but put everyone back to work so they can afford to pay taxes. Or, as he put it: “There are three ways that you can cut a deficit. One, of course, is to raise taxes. Number two is to cut spending. And number three is to grow the economy, because if more people work in a growing economy they’re paying taxes and you can get the job done that way.” By backing the third option, Romney rejected the tough-love policies urged on him by his primary rivals and instead has prioritized growing the economy.

Romney displayed a nimble ability to turn on a dime, emerging with a raft of proposals that sounded reasonable and cogent. The mystery is not why Romney refashioned himself as a moderate whose competence set him apart from the president, but why Obama did not see it coming. Romney’s agile and eloquent performance was a brilliant example of political dexterity, while Obama was left stuttering and stammering into the lectern. Whatever verdict the polls deliver in the next few days, Obama now enters the second debate as the underdog. If the president doesn’t ditch his charmless demeanor and hangdog look and sharpen up his rhetoric, Romney will steal the middle ground from under his nose.

Nicholas Wapshott’s Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics has just been published in paperback by W.W. Norton. Read extracts here.

PHOTO: Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, stand onstage after the first presidential debate in Denver, October 3, 2012. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart


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President Obama’s sole strategy appears to be wearing thin.

Continuing to blame George Bush for the shortcomings of his own administration may still play well to die-hard liberal Democrats, but isn’t likely to sway any moderate or undecided voters.

Far more likely, it will reinforce the notion that Obama’s own policies are indefensible, and that another four years of excuses, not progress, are headed our way.

Posted by pax_vobiscum | Report as abusive

Mitt has no credibility. He thinks he can just say whatever and be believed. He is really not honest.

I think Obama won the debate. Why? Well all Romney did was attack the President and say that everything he has said in the past is not what he said. In short, he’s not telling the truth again. On top of that he is aggressively attacking the President as being “failed” and not having done enough. This is simply not true. Voters will see right through this.

What was Obama supposed to do? Attack Mitt? What the President did was stay true to his own vision and views. Somehow, people think that a whirling dervish of falsehoods and double and triple speak is a winner? Naw. Obama is trying to have a discussion and Romney just wants to dump on him and hope nobody notices his own inconsistencies. He is also Etch a Sketching but in small steps, little by little, to claim that he is exactly like Obama on the issues that matter to Americans. Because Obama has it right.

Mitt can’t be trusted. And who really knows what he believe and what he will really do if he had the power of the Presidency? You know what, I am pretty sure I know what he would do and it would not be pretty. s/13017922-its-the-dishonesty-stupid s/12903382-michele-obama-and-bill-clinto n-lay-out-at-the-rnc-just-how-much-obama -believes-in-america-does-mitt-romney-be lieve-in-america-or-something-else

Posted by paulstewart | Report as abusive

It’s one thing for a politician to allow experience and wisdom to slowly adjust their world views, thereby changing their opinion of policy. I think as an electorate we need to allow this kind of flexibility over the course of a career; otherwise we don’t allow them any room for growth.

Romney claims this sort of shift for several of his most egregious flip flops (ie choice/life) and though it seems a little disingenuous and politically expedient, I think I can let it pass. However, if we allow this massive shift of core governing philosophies during a single election cycle then we are morons.

I honestly have no idea what this guy would attempt to do in office. Is he a “severe conservative” or a moderate bridge builder? I can’t even tell what platform he’s standing on. He’s running on tax cuts, but has started saying that the tax cuts are revenue neutral because of closed loopholes… that’s called tax reform, not cuts. Tax reform is certainly a worthwhile endeavor and I could vote for someone pushing it, but I can’t tell if he’s even serious about doing that.

I would love to be able to vote for a moderate, thoughtful fiscal conservative, but I am not convinced that is the candidate before me. Considering that this conservative-turned-moderate also comes with metric ton of social conservatism baggage, I think I’ll leave him up on the shelf and stick with the devil I know…

Posted by spall78 | Report as abusive

In other words Romney adopted Obama’s policies. No wonder he won the debate.

This is OK and I would even vote for him if I knew he would be telling the truth out of conviction. But he is a serial “let say whatever to get elected” politician – changing approaches with the wind. So the only way to really know what happens if we elect him is to see which ring he will need to kiss.

And without a doubt it is the billionaires who are funding his campaign: those who want to maintain their Cayman tax shelters (so there will really be no closing of loopholes by the Congress on that one), A casino mogul with a deep love for Israel (i.e 100% chance of war with Iran) being accused of bribing foreign officials and Coal Moguls brothers who want to pollute freely (everywhere except in the Hampton of course), and the tea Party (the tails that wag the dogs) in the congress. Since he has no convictions those people will tell him what to believe in. This is where we need to see which policies he will adopt – Not in debates. It is the policies of the puppet masters that will prevail at the end of the day if you elect Romney.

Posted by Peertoperr | Report as abusive

Romney will say anything he thinks will get him elected, even if it completely contradicts what he says to a different audience. Even looking to his actions is a bit of a mess. He created Romneycare as governor, then says he will completely repeal it because the same plan was labeled Obamacare. Then he tries to tell audiences that he will keep the parts they like, but not the parts that will pay for it. Then he says he will cut the budget and taxes.

His tax returns offer a more consistent viewpoint, he takes full advantage of the hedge fund loophole to pay less than 15%, avoids taking some charitable deductions that would put his rate at 9% (which he can then take after the election with an amended return), shows Cayman Islands accounts whose only conceivable purpose is a tax dodge, then refuses to show earlier tax returns than must be even worse. Oh, then he badmouths the working poor as “takers” when their payroll tax rate (yes it is a tax on income) is higher than his income tax rate.

Now in the debates he tries to pretend that he cares about the rest of us.

Posted by QuietThinker | Report as abusive

I do not blame the candidate for the hyperbolics and change in positions. I blame the masses that eat it up like it’s ice cream and refuse to believe what they see: a man who flips and flops like a used car salesman but they continue to believe that he will be what he said last,not what he said before and before that and before that. People are sheep.

Posted by ofilha | Report as abusive