Romney's easy comfort with making chameleon-like changes in response to short-term political opportunities makes him almost as dangerous as a true-believing right-wing nut.
Every politician lies. But Mitt Romney's chances of victory this Tuesday hinge more than most elections on the stupidity and poor memory of the American electorate. First he threw his moderate Massachusetts governorship under the bus to build what he called a "severely conservative" appeal to right-wing Republican primary voters. Then he shape-shifted back into moderate Mitt in a ploy to win over undecided swing voters in the general election—just after choosing Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate to mollify the right-wing in advance.
"I think you [are allowed to] hit a reset button for the fall campaign," Romney senior campaign advisor Eric Fehrnstrom put it in March. "It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again."
The Etch A Sketch has been in constant motion ever since, the only stable part of Romney's platform being: "Mitt Romney should be president of the United States."
Romney's easy comfort with making chameleon-like changes in response to short-term political opportunities makes him almost as dangerous as a true-believing right-wing nut. If Romney wins on Tuesday, and Republicans gain control of the U.S. Senate and maintain control of the House, we can likely expect a "severely conservative" President Romney—one who believes in overturning Roe vs. Wade, slashing funding for programs that aid the poor, cutting taxes for the rich while raising them on everyone else, and dismantling not only Obamacare but the Medicare and Medicaid programs so many elderly Americans depend on.
"We just need a president to sign this stuff," Grover Norquist argued early this year, encouraging conservatives to settle for Mitt. "We don't need someone to think it up or design it. The leadership now for the modern conservative movement for the next 20 years will be coming out of the House and the Senate."
(As Matthew Yglesias notes, the Democratic Senate majority expected to survive Tuesday's vote would block some of this agenda—but it might not hold up through the 2014 mid-term elections.)
The following is an overview of some of Romney's most outrageous flip-flops and distortions of his own record; or, a guide to what a President Romney might do if a Republican Congress demands it.
Mitt Romney refused to sign a "no-taxes" pledge while running for governor in 2002, but quickly changed his mind in 2006 while gearing up for his first presidential run. Fending off conservative primary attacks in February, he pledged "to cut taxes on everyone across the country by 20 percent, including the top 1 percent."
Romney, however, has not been eager to discuss why the Republican House won't allow separate votes on continuing Bush's unpopular tax cuts for the rich and popular cuts for the middle class. Instead, he insisted in the debates that he would cut taxes without raising the deficit, and without "people at the high end pay[ing] less than they’re paying now." "Middle-income people," he promised, "are going to get a tax break.” He claims this will happen by "closing loopholes." Conveniently, the Romney campaign refuses to say which loopholes he would close.
Experts at the Tax Policy Center call his "revenue neutral" tax cut ludicrous, explaining that Romney's plan for "cutting tax expenditures will result in a net tax cut for high-income taxpayers and a net tax increase for lower- and or middle-income taxpayers." In other words, "closing loopholes" is short for: the rich will continue to pay low tax rates, while most everyone else will pay higher taxes.
The Safety Net
In February, Romney proclaimed, “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there." Well, at least we sort of have one. But Romney could very well obliterate what's left of America's frayed social welfare system for the poor, working and struggling middle classes—you know, a good chunk of the 47 percent of Americans who he no-longer-secretly believes are hopelessly "dependent upon government."
Vice-Presidential nominee Ryan, who until recently supported privatizing Social Security, is best known for his budget, versions of which have been passed by House Republicans for the last two years. The Ryan budget would a) turn Medicare into a voucher system that gives checks to seniors to buy private insurance, funded in such a way as to make it unlikely the vouchers will keep pace with rising medical costs; b) cut Medicaid funding that more than 50 million poor and elderly depend on, and block grant it to the states; and c) cut programs for the poor like food stamps by nearly $1 trillion over the next decade.
It's a budget that even Newt Gingrich once called "right-wing social engineering." And Romney unleashed an ad during the primary slamming him for the statement.
Romney chose Ryan as his running mate because conservatives love the Ryan budget. But he has since insisted that his budget is not the Ryan plan. Romney, however, praised the plan—both the 2011 edition and the somewhat less ambitious 2012 version—over and over again during the primary, with statements like: "I’m very supportive of the Ryan budget plan," "We are on the same page," and "I think it’d be marvelous if the Senate were to pick up Paul Ryan’s budget and to adopt it and pass it along to the president."
Running for Massachusetts governor, Romney was unequivocal in his support for abortion rights: “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country; I have since the time that my mom took that position when she ran in 1970 as a U.S. Senate candidate."
As a presidential candidate Romney has, of course, changed his mind, announcing "that the Supreme Court should reverse Roe v. Wade" and pledging to eliminate federal funding of Planned Parenthood. Now, in a desperate effort to appeal to skeptical women voters, the Romney campaign claims women won't have to worry about their abortion rights—whatever that means.
Bryan Fischer of the socially conservative American Family Association, however, reminded Talking Points Memo that Romney has pledged to appoint the sorts of justices who will overturn Roe v Wade.
“The next president will likely appoint two or three justices to the Supreme Court, and it’s entirely possible, even likely, that the Court will take up a case before too long that could go right to the heart of Roe. Romney has pledged to appoint...judges who will overturn Roe should that day come, and this would be an excellent time for him to reiterate that promise.”
Indeed, after his attempts to publicly tone-down his stance angered the right, he reiterated that he would be a "pro-life president."
Three of the five justices who to some degree support Roe—Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Steven Breyer, Justice Kennedy—are in their mid-to-late seventies. Conservative Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito likely need just one more vote to eliminate abortion as a constitutional right.
Debating Obama, Romney also claimed, "I don’t believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care or not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives." Odd for a man who, as recently as February 2012, had supported the Blunt Amendment, which would have allowed employers to deny contraceptive coverage to workers.
In October, Romney ran a Spanish-language ad bashing Obama for failing to pass immigration reform and touting himself as a pro-immigrant candidate. Obama's failure to address immigration reform and the record number of deportations carried out under his administration has angered and disappointed many Latinos. But Romney's pandering is based on lies about his own record.
During the Republican primary, Romney advocated "self-deportation," the sort of harsh measures employed by states like Arizona to make life so unpleasant for the undocumented that they leave. And he signed up the law's author, anti-immigrant celebrity and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, as an advisor. He has also promised to veto the Dream Act, which would offer a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children who go to college or join the military.
Romney likely trusts that most anti-immigrant conservatives don't speak Spanish and thus won't understand the ad's claim that "Romney trabajó con demócratas para lograr soluciones." (Translation: Romney works with Democrats to find solutions.)
Given his lie-based campaign, Romney is clearly hoping that the rest of us haven't mastered any language at all. Romney was a "smart-growth" anti-sprawl governor who believed in global warming before he didn't, who invented Obamacare before promising to repeal it.
Don't get me wrong. In terms of policy, Mitt and Obama overlap in many instances—from drones (with which both men believe you can launch weapons to assassinate American citizens without trial or a declaration of war), globalization and labor rights (the corporate establishment of both parties guarantees support for NAFTA-style free trade agreements and a government, to varying degrees, dominated by Wall Street), criminal justice (neither candidate has pledged to do anything major to downsize our bloated prison system), and education (both parties have favored higher-stakes standardized testing, teacher union busting, and privatization either through charters or vouchers), there is insufficient daylight between Obama and Romney.
But Mitt's flip-flops aren't just prevarications. He is following orders. And if Republicans take control of Congress, a Romney presidency could be an extraordinarily right-wing one—one that he's trying to deceive American voters into believing will be far less harsh than it may actually be in the future.
Mitt's second-and-third thoughts on every issue in American politics don't make him untrustworthy. They make him a stalwart ally of whatever political necessity rules the day.
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