Monday, October 08, 2012

Newt Gingrich admires Romney's glib dishonesty about taxes

One of Romney's gambits in the debate last Wednesday was that he finally shook his Etch-a-Sketch, jettisoned all the hard-right rhetoric he had been using to win the nomination and pacify the Republican "base," and reverted to his long-abandoned pose as a reasonable, moderate, "bipartisan" pragmatist without a plutocratic bone in his body.  (If one listened carefully, though, this metamorphosis had more to do with changes in rhetorical style and presentation-of-self than with his substantive policy proposals, which Romney tried to obfuscate but didn't actually change very much in concrete terms.)  The outcome of the election will turn, in part, on how many voters Romney can fool with this latest charade.

Romney's switch in tone was certainly applauded by some Republican pundits and politicians who had been starting to panic about the possibility that the rapidly solidifying image of Romney as a callous plutocrat and Tea Party ideologue would cost him the election and pull down Republican candidates across the country.  David Brooks captured this crowd's post-debate relief with a New York Times column titled "Moderate Mitt Returns!"  As I've noted before, the widespread belief that Romney is a totally dishonest hypocrite has hurt him in some respects, but in other ways it has actually been one of his major political assets.  Many people have consoled themselves with the thought that nothing Romney was saying needed be taken seriously, because he was simply pandering to the Republican primary electorate and the right-wing propaganda machine.  Brooks and others like him, who were beginning to get nervous about this, now feel vindicated:
Yes, it’s true. Romney’s tax numbers don’t add up. Yes, there’s a lot of budgetary flimflam. No, Romney still doesn’t have an easy answer to wage stagnation (neither does Obama). But Romney’s debate performance signals the return of Governor Mitt. Democrats call it hypocrisy; I call it progress.
Yes, Democrats might call it hypocrisy.  But who cares about Democrats?  The more interesting fact, as Brooks went on to observe, is that Romney got away with it on the Republican side.

It's clear that most Republican voters did not really want Romney as their candidate (though they were unable to come up with a viable alternative), distrusted his commitment to current right-wing orthodoxies, and suspected that deep down he was unacceptably "moderate" and a Republican In Name Only.  They might have taken his shape-shifting last Wednesday as a confirmation of their worst suspicions.  But instead of being outraged, they were enthusiastic.
Most important, Romney did something no other mainstream Republican has had the guts to do. Either out of conviction or political desperation, he broke with Tea Party orthodoxy and began to redefine the Republican identity. And, having taken this step, he’s broken the spell. Conservatives [JW: i.e., right-wing extremists] loved it! They loved that it was effective, and it was effective because Romney could more authentically be the man who (I think) he truly is.
In other words, whether or not the Romney campaign finally shook the Etch-a-Sketch out of desperation, they must have calculated that they could get away with it because right-wing pundits and the Republican "base" were also getting desperate as they saw the election slipping away.  That calculation turned out to be accurate. At this point the Republican hard right almost doesn't care what Romney says, as long as he beats Obama.

It must also be dawning on some of them that back in 2000 George W. Bush (He Who Must Not Be Named) was successful in campaigning as a "moderate"—hypocritically, but effectively—and then governing as a right-wing extremist.  Yes, many of them now complain, explicitly or in effect, that the Bush administration was not right-wing enough.  Many of them had also convinced themselves that an undiluted, ideologically purist right-wing agenda (of the let-Ryan-be-Ryan variety) would be more popular with the electorate than "moderate" and pseudo-"compassionate" RINO equivocations. That last illusion seems to be fading, and the Bush/Rove bait-and-switch approach must look better and better in retrospect.

So Romney is now getting a free pass on his campaign rhetoric from the Republican hard right.  Newt Gingrich's remarks in the video clip below offer a nice illustration.

(How long this free pass will last is another matter.  Has Romney actually "broken the spell" of the Tea Party and the Ryan Budget in the Republican Party?  Dream on, David Brooks!  And if Romney is defeated in the end, the anti-RINO recriminations against him and his campaign from the right will be fierce. But for the moment, the "Moderate Mitt" pose is OK with them, as long as it does the job.)

—Jeff Weintraub

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