Construction Literary Magazine

Fall 2020

Mitt Romney Lives, Apparently!

Mitt Romney Lives, Apparently!

Photograph via The Washington Post

Have you heard the latest about Mitt Romney and abortion? He won’t legislate against it. Or something like that. Here’s what he told the Des Moines Register on Tuesday, before his campaign later walked the comments back: “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.”

In those good old August days, carefree and hot, when it seemed Romney’s campaign team couldn’t have run a corner store and conservatives were always angry at him about something and Obama was a sure thing for another term, we might have considered his abortion statement just another Romney gaffe. But this is no gaffe. Rather, it is a deliberate part of Romney’s recent strategy to hew back to the middle and, in particular, to attract women voters.

William Saletan’s Slate column detailed just how Romney, in his abortion statement, used “weasel words” to conceal his true stance and appeal to moderates. These comments followed Romney’s disavowal of his 47% comments on the show of Sean Hannity, who not three weeks earlier said that those same comments were “one of his sharpest critiques yet of President Obama and the entitlement society that he enables.” And this walk back came on the heels of Romney’s stunning pivot toward the center at last week’s debate.

If Romney’s statement on abortion was a gaffe, then his entire first debate ought to be classified as a gaffe, as it was a compendium of statements endorsing positions Mitt Romney The Presidential Candidate does not hold and is unlikely to support or enact once in office. And by unlikely, I mean that old story: the snowball, the snowball’s chance, hell.

[pullquote_right] If Romney’s statement on abortion was a gaffe, then his entire first debate ought to be classified as a gaffe.[/pullquote_right]

We heard so much in the wake of the debate: conservatives crowing, liberals whimpering under the table in the corner, Big Bird jokes.

But did you notice whom we have not really heard from? The superrich. Yes, that usually whiny bunch, prone to responding to the tiniest of perceived slights with self-righteous op-eds, has been silent in the week since the debate. Is it strange, isn’t it, that the financial titans aren’t up in arms? After all, Debate Romney said he would not reduce taxes for the rich. Debate Romney spoke approvingly of financial regulation. And yet they don’t seem worried. It’s almost as if they know a smoke screen when they see one. Like they have some sort of assurances.

Romney’s recent debate strategy was predicted and suggested by several writers, among them the New York Times’ Ross Douthat, considered by many to be one of the smartest, sanest conservatives around. After Romney’s fundraiser comments were leaked in mid-September, Douthat lamented:

“He could have run for president, as various right-of-center voices have pointed out, as the candidate of a kind of pro-market populism — as a foe of “bigness” on Wall Street and Washington alike, as a champion of tax policy that favored families as well as entrepreneurs, as a champion of a more-than-notional replacement for the Obama health care bill, and so forth.”

Douthat suggested Romney could crib from George W. Bush’s 2000 debate performances, in which “when he championed conservative ideas, he stressed their impact on the middle class and the working poor, rather than just lionizing entrepreneurs and businessmen.”

Excellent! Here is my question: Does Douthat think it was not just politically effective but a good thing, for either the conservatism brand or, you know, our country, that Bush was able to mislead voters? Let there be no doubt: that is exactly what happened in the 2000 debates. Douthat notes that some of the failures of the Bush presidency obscured the success of his earlier campaign strategy. But he treats it like an accident, rather than acknowledging the link between a president who gained office by pretending to care about the poor and middle class more than he actually did and then – surprise! – presided over rising income inequality, surplus-destroying tax cuts for the rich, and the bungling of Hurrican Katrina disaster relief.

Of course, there is always a certain amount of misleading in politics. But this recent bout seems beyond the pale. In the New York Times, Juliet Lapidos suggests a Romney win could set a “nasty precedent” in which politicians “can tell different lies to different audiences from week to week, and voters will actually reward them.” VP candidate Paul Ryan complained that Obama’s new campaign strategy was just to call Romney and Ryan liars. But you have to admit, it is an apt description of the Republican ticket, and I wonder how it might have worked had Obama referred to Romney as such during their debate. Clearly that was not the Obama campaign’s debate strategy, though it would have been more effective than trying to nail Romney on his phantom tax deductions, floating out there in the ether somewhere, probably wherever the WMDs are still hiding, waiting to be located.

When it came to Romney’s abortion statement, the right-to-life groups weren’t too worried. All it took was a little reassuring from his advisors that Romney was still on their side. Appeal to the middle, then give a wink to the right. Wall Street, on the other hand, didn’t even need any such reassurances after the debate. They know they’ll get what they want. They always do.