At the debate on Tuesday, Mitt Romney masterfully obscured his true positions on everything from taxes to education to health care. He presented himself as the technocratic centrist he used to be and gave voice to a balanced approach to the role of government that is sorely lacking from his actual policy proposals.
The next step in this makeover came last night, when he disavowed his remarks about the freeloading 47 percent:
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is disavowing his controversial remarks dismissing “the 47 percent” of Americans who don’t pay federal income taxes, saying in an interview Thursday night that the comments were “just completely wrong.”
“My life has shown that I care about 100 percent, and that’s been demonstrated throughout my life,” Romney told conservative commentator Sean Hannity on Fox News. “And this whole campaign is about the 100 percent.”
The problem here, of course, is that after the freeloading 47 percent video came to light, Romney stood by the remarks he had made, allowing that they were not “elegantly stated,” but describing them as “a message which I am going to carry and continue to carry.” It seems clear from that videotape that Romney does subscribe to the “makers and moochers” worldview, at least in some form, even if he has now recognized that it’s toxic to his presidential hopes.
More broadly, pundits claim all of this suggests the reemergence of moderate Massachusetts Mitt. But that’s not what’s happening here at all. As Steve Kornacki notes, all that’s really changing is that Romney is reinventing his own plans as part of a broader effort to redirect his rhetoric away from the base and towards swing voters. Case in point:
His debate exchange with Obama over taxes is a perfect example. Romney is clearly vulnerable on the issue; the plan he’s presented would slash tax rates in a way that disproportionately benefits the wealthy, and would either explode the deficit or require the elimination of popular, widely used tax deductions. This reflects the actual priorities of the Republican Party, but it’s also at odds with what most Americans (who consistently tell pollsters they don’t like deficits and want taxes on the wealthy raised, and who are fond of their tax deductions) want. Romney’s solution: Insist during the debate that the rich won’t get a tax break and that the deficit won’t explode and avoid specifying any deductions that might be on the chopping block.
And he’s doing this on issue after issue. What’s happening now is that Romney is busily obscuring the true nature of his policy proposals and the priorities and ideas about government that inform them, because they are out of step with what the American mainstream really wants. The real story coming out of the debate is that Romney is proving to be very adept at this. The question is whether the media focus on Romney’s undeniably excellent performance, rather than on the substance of his serial evasions, will enable him to get away with it.
* A spotlight shined on Romney’s evasions: Relatedly, the New York Times comes through with a big stand alone piece documenting the startling number of shifts and evasions on issues and previous positions that Romney displayed at the debate. As the Times puts it delicately, Romney’s “striking new language to describe his policy proposals” may be “sowing confusion about how Mr. Romney would govern.”
As Jonathan Bernstein notes, it’s possible that Romney’s mendacity, not just his dominant performance, could become a main storyline out of the debate, which could blunt any Romney bounce, just as Paul Ryan’s dishonesty became the story of his convention speech.
* A better than expected jobs report: It’s in:
The unemployment rate decreased to 7.8 percent in September, and total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 114,000, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment increased in health care and in transportation and warehousing but changed little in most other major industries.
This is still not good enough, but the drop in unemployment does kill Romney’s talking point about unemployment remaining over eight percent.
Also: The August jobs report — which pundits spent days hyping as a wet blanket on Obama’s candidacy — was significantly revised upwards from 96,000 to 146,000. Can we learn from this?
This is only one metric, and the question, as always, is what direction people perceive the economy moving in. So this is good news politically for Obama. But keep in mind that public perceptions of the economy are more complex than this one metric captures.
* Romney ad highlights disappointment in Obama: The Romney campaign is up with a new ad in Nevada that features a former professional basketball player claiming he voted for Obama but has “lost faith” in him because “over the last four years we’ve heard enough excuses.”. This is the softer messaging about Obama that’s geared towards speaking to people’s disappointment, telling people who voted for him last time that it’s okay to move on — it’s not you, it’s him.
* A silver lining for Obama in the debate? A counterintuitive take from Robert Shrum: Even if voters may have decided Romney put on the better show, Obama advanced arguments and issue positions that will matter to key constituencies, and he elicited evasions and concessions from Romney that will damage him in the home stretch.
* How to judge the post-debate polls: Nate Silver has a useful metric: If Romney’s debate performance closes the gap between him and Obama, the key thing to watch is whether Obama’s support comes down from 49 or 50 percent. If Romney’s gains only come from undecided voters coming back into his column, and Obama remains at that threshold, the President will still be on track to win.
* Romney’s evasion on preexisting conditions: Paul Krugman devotes a whole column to Romney’s debate claim that his plan covers people with pre-existing conditions. As Krugman notes, the campaign keeps backing away from that claim after he makes it, arguing that states can guarantee protections for them, which is policy gibberish.
I would add that this is a pattern: When he’s addressing millions, Romney claims he’d guarantee coverage of pre-existing conditions. Subsequently, his campaign issues a clarification no one will see.
* Dems try to expand Senate map: The Dem-leaning group Vote Vets, which is already running ads in the Arizona Senate race, is putting another half million dollars behind a new ad hitting Tea Partyer Richard Mourdock, the GOP Senate candidate in Indiana. The effort reflects an effort by outside groups to expand the Senate map in the belief that the overall environment in Senate races is trending their way.
* And the “study” backing up Romney’s tax charge: Romney ads cite an “independent, non-partisan study” to back up the claim that Obama and “liberals” will raise middle class taxes by $4000. But as Allen McDuffee notes, this study is actually an analysis produced by the American Enterprise Institute. Romney cited it at the debate, too.
By the way: The Tax Policy Center — which produced the study showing that Romney’s plan must raise the middle class’ tax burden to remain revenue neutral — really is independent and nonpartisan, no matter how often folks lie to the contrary.