Perry’s phony attack ad on changes to Romney’s book

at 06:00 AM ET, 09/27/2011

“In his 2010 book, Mitt Romney wrote Romneycare was a national model. . . . When No Apology was published in paperback on Feb. 1, 2011, Romney deleted his own words praising Romneycare.”

— From a new campaign ad by Texas Gov. Rick Perry

The battle of the books has now turned into an ad war.

The Rick Perry campaign on Monday released an advertisement that reiterates the Texas governor’s charge, made during last week’s debate, that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney altered the text of his book “No Apology” between the publication of the hardcover edition in 2010 and the paperback version in 2011. Specifically, Perry claims that Romney deleted a sentence suggesting that the health-care plan he passed in Massachusetts was a model for the rest of the nation.

Romney forcefully denied that claim during the debate — a clip the Perry campaign uses in this ad. “Please don’t try and make me retreat from the words that I wrote in my book,” Romney said. “I stand by what I wrote. I believe in what I did. And I believe that the people of this country can read my book and see exactly what it is.”

When Romney says he stood by what he wrote, Perry nods his head, smiles and says, “Good.” Perhaps he was already thinking of the attack ad he could craft?

On the evening of the debate, we looked at this issue briefly and concluded that Perry had substantially overstated the significance of the changes in the text. But this ad raises the stakes and thus requires a deeper look.

The Facts

The key sentence that Perry focuses on in his ad is this one, which is in a chapter on Romney’s successful drive to bring universal health care to his state: “We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country, and it can be done without letting government take over health care.” (Page 177.)

In the paperback, the sentence is simply this: “And it was done without the government taking over health care.”(Page 192.)

Now readers should always be suspicious when a politician clips little snippets of a quote and blows them up into an ad. For instance, what is in the paragraph just above this sentence, unchanged in both editions of the book? You will find these two sentences (which can actually be spotted in the Perry ad, if you look quickly enough):

“My own preference would be to let each state fashion its own program to meet the distinct needs of its citizens. States could follow the Massachusetts model if they choose, or they could develop plans of their own.”

In other words, Perry is simply making up the claim that Romney advocated his health-care plan as a model for the rest of the country — and that he deleted words praising it. Perry’s claim is directly contradicted on the very page from which he draws his gotcha quote. (You can see this clearly if you click on this PDF of Pages 176-177, courtesy of our friends at PolitiFact.)

In fact, while Romney has a reputation as a flip-flopper (which this ad tries to exploit), he has been consistent in saying he did not want to import his plan to the rest of the country. When the Massachusetts law was passed in 2006, he appeared on MSNBC and was asked whether it would work for the rest of the country.

“Well, it will work for Massachusetts, and that’s of course the thing that I had to focus on,” Romney replied. “There are certain aspects of it that I think would work across the country, perhaps better in some states than others. Of course the great thing about federalism is you let a state try it and see how it works before you spread it out.”

Romney made a similar point in an interview with Dan Balz of The Washington Post in 2007, as he recalled during last week’s debate. “Instead of having the federal government give us one-size-fits-all, everybody-must-follow-the-same-plan, let states develop their own,” he told Balz.

We closely compared the chapter on health care in the two editions so you don’t have to. Essentially, it is clear that the hardcover edition was written when Obama’s health-care plan was still a work in progress. For instance, Romney spends some time denouncing the idea of a public option as “government-supplied insurance.” The paperback was published after the health-care law was passed, so the paragraphs on the public option — which had been abandoned by Obama — are dropped.

Romney also must have sensed that GOP anger at Obama’s health-care law might make his own signature legislative achievement less attractive to Republican voters, so he added a few paragraphs emphasizing how the Democratic governor who followed him made changes in the law that he did not approve of. But otherwise the changes are minimal — the standard updating that takes place in paperback nonfiction books.

The Perry ad concludes with a clip from a television interview with Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul, in which she says: “When Governor Romney wrote his book in early 2009, the stimulus hadn’t passed, Obamacare hadn’t passed, so updates of course are going to be made to reflect changes in the climate.”

The ad flashes as she is talking: “Obama’s stimulus passed Feb. 13, 2009 . . . Obamacare passed U.S. Senate Dec. 24, 2009.”

“Changes in the climate” is certainly an interesting choice of words, but in the case of the health-care law, the ad strains to stay in 2009. The fate of the health-care law actually was unclear until the House finally passed the Senate version on March 21, 2010.

Most book publishers need the manuscript in hand six to nine months before publication, which is why Romney’s remarks on the public option were rather dated by the time the book was published on March 2, 2010 — nearly three weeks before the health-care bill became law.

We sent Perry spokesman Mark Miner an e-mail seeking comment, but he continued his nearly unbroken record of declining to respond to a fact-checking inquiry.

The Pinocchio Test

This ad is the kind of gamesmanship that gives politics a bad name. Perry could have made a reasoned attack on the type of health-care reform that Romney supported, but instead he chose to manufacture a phony issue. Romney has long said he did not view his plan as a model for the nation, and he has not wavered on that stance.

Three Pinocchios

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    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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