Under the pressure of a presidential campaign, candidates are tempted to make deals with the devil, to sell off little pieces of their soul to save their political fortunes. In the 1992 New Hampshire primary, Bill Clinton lied about Gennifer Flowers. His comeback was built on a falsehood that would haunt him throughout his administration. In the 2000 South Carolina primary, George W. Bush dropped his “uniter” facade and ran a divisive campaign to destroy the surging John McCain, the kind of expediency that would plague him periodically during his two-term presidency.
Now it’s Mitt Romney’s turn. Desperate to avoid a lengthy primary season that could drain him financially and politically, Romney is trying to prove his conservative credentials by saying things about President Obama that he undoubtedly knows are false. It is part of a frame where Romney accuses Obama of giving up on America and presents himself as the great restorer.
Now cynics will say, “A politician lying about his opponent? How shocking!” And indeed, there are many who believe that the old joke about lawyers — “How do you know when they are lying? When their lips move” — applies even better to politicians. But a candidate’s prevarications tend to catch up with the perpetrator somewhere down the campaign trail or later in office.
Romney has a good chance of winning the nomination and being president of a country facing extraordinary challenges with the mechanisms to fix them in shambles. The only way to govern such a country is to reestablish trust. And the only way to do that is to be honest even when it isn’t easy. How Romney chooses to win will be as important as if he wins.