Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was known as a relentless empiricist during his time in the venture capital world. But today, his campaign is premised on a lie about the president, and his speeches are littered with lies about all manner of people, places, and policies. What happened?
It seems to me that Romney is simply applying the same approach: whatever it takes to make a buck/get elected.
Right now, Romney is running for the Republican nomination. In a political party without policy preferences, politicians get votes by playing to the resentment of the party’s tribalistic adherents. [ADDED: There's anecdotal and polling support for the view that Romney's support is dependent on Republican resentment at this TNR post.]
So, Mitt Romney repeatedly lies about what we are doing– “apology tour”, “entitlement society”, put free enterprise on trial”, “Fannie and Freddie caused the financial crisis”,“regulatory uncertainty”, “throw Israel under the bus”, deliberately harming America, lying about foreign policy, “class warfare“, “very little of” federal spending goes anywhere but to bureaucrats, etc.
The GOP has jettisoned policy beliefs for Southern Strategy rhetoric, designed to heighten resentment against the government and out groups. And it works. Romney knows how to raise money and how to appear passable to Republican voters. So that’s what he does.
He’s more polished than his opponents, too. He sticks to “apology tour” and “entitlement society,” while his less disciplined opponents take it all a bit further. Such as this bit from Rick Santorum:
[Santorum] appeared to say – and was reported as having said – “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.” Santorum told King that he hadn’t intended to say “black people,” and indeed that he had reviewed the tape and wasn’t even sure he had said it. “I didn’t say black people. I started to say word and kind of went ‘bleurgh’ and mixed my thoughts. I started to say one word and came up with a different word and moved on.”
A discussion about health care policy becomes, for Santorum, “the Gubmint wants to take Our money and give it to Black People!” It’s the Southern Strategy version of libertarianish rhetoric.
Or this, from Newt Gingrich: “I will go to the NAACP convention, and tell the African-American community why they should demand paychecks instead of food stamps.”
That devoutly pragmatic outlook influenced Romney’s decisions from the very beginning of his political career:
A Mormon who admires Romney but has had his share of disagreements with him, [Boston journalist Ronald] Scott knew Romney from local church matters in the late 1980s. … According to Scott, Romney revealed that polling from Richard Wirthlin, Ronald Reagan’s former pollster whom Romney had hired for the ’94 campaign, showed it would be impossible for a pro-life candidate to win statewide office in Massachusetts. In light of that, Romney decided to run as a pro-choice candidate, pledging to support Roe v. Wade, while remaining personally pro-life.
In November 1993, according to Scott, Romney said he and Wirthlin, a Mormon whose brother and father were high-ranking church officials, traveled to Salt Lake City to meet with church elders. Gathering in the Church Administration Building, Romney, in Scott’s words, “laid out for church leaders … what his public position would be on abortion — personally opposed but willing to let others decide for themselves.”
As someone who wants America to do well, and to enact sensible policies, I find Romney’s lying quite galling. But that’s not the game Romney is playing. American interests are every bit as relevant as the interests of KB Toys. Mitt just gotsta get paid/elected.
(It’s funny, were Mitt Romney just getting into politics now, as the data-driven, wealthy, young, ambitious politician he was in the early 1990s, he’d probably run as a Democrat. But even as he’s changed his views on everything else, that’s the one change he hasn’t made. Maybe that’s the one clue as to what he’d actually want to do as president… or maybe not.)
Paul Krugman noted Romney lying despite knowing better in yet another arena earlier this week:
So what the story of Romney and the auto bailout actually shows is something we already knew from health care: he’s a smart guy who is also a moral coward. His original proposal for the auto industry, like his health reform, [and his Keynesian economic stimulus plan -- RE] bore considerable resemblance to what Obama actually did. But when the deed took place, Romney — rather than having the courage to say that the president was actually doing something reasonable — joined the rest of his party in whining and denouncing the plan.
And now he wants to claim credit for the very policy he trashed when it hung in the balance.
Romney is just doing what it takes to be a Republican– lying about policy and the president. It’s every bit as data-driven as his previous career.
This wound up being sorta like a reworking of an earlier post, so it’s going up on a weekend.