“None of them are going to take a chance on offending this age group,” said Bob Landino, 78, who lives in Sun Lakes and is retired from the restaurant industry. “They’re going to change it for 20-, 30-, 40-, 50-year-olds, but not if you’re already at the age of retirement. That ain’t gonna happen.”
In many ways, it doesn’t matter to the candidates whether people are attuned to what they are actually saying about Social Security. For them, the issue is instead serving as a proxy for the narrative each is trying to establish about himself.
For Perry, standing by his brash statements on Social Security — he has called it a “Ponzi scheme” and a “monstrous lie” — presents a chance to show that he’s a straight-shooter unafraid to confront the nation’s toughest challenges.
“I don’t get particularly concerned that I need to back off from my factual statement that Social Security, as it is structured today, is broken,” Perry said in an interview published in Time magazine last week. “If you want to call it a Ponzi scheme, if you want to say it’s a criminal enterprise, if you just want to say it’s broken — they all get to the same point. We need, as a country, to have an adult conversation.”
For Romney, it’s a moment to portray Perry as too radical for America — and himself as a more rational, problem-solving leader. The issue has also given Romney an opening to assert himself in a way he hadn’t done previously. For months before Perry got in, Romney hung back, ignored his rivals’ barbs and kept a minimal public schedule in which he did little other than tout his business experience and criticize President Obama’s handling of the economy.
Confronted with his most formidable challenger yet to the “electable” and “experienced” mantles Romney hopes to assume, he has adopted a new and aggressive tone.
“Social Security is not a Ponzi scheme,” Romney said Wednesday in a packed clubhouse ballroom in Sun Lakes. “Social Security has worked pretty darn well for 75 years. You guys haven’t taken advantage of Social Security; you’ve contributed to it, in a pretty big way. Is it financially out of control? Absolutely. Are we going to have to change it down the road? Yeah.”
Perry and Romney both say they would continue existing benefits for seniors but acknowledge that Social Security is unsustainable and say it needs to be reformed for future generations. But neither has detailed how he would achieve that.