The upshot is that Romney is free to propose impossible unions of his past pragmatism -- compromising with Massachusetts Democrats, supporting the TARP bailouts, designing subsidized health insurance exchanges -- with his current extremist positions. Here's how three of those unions played out in the last debate.
1. He will compromise with Democrats on deficit reduction -- without agreeing to any tax increases.
The real course for America is to have someone who is a leader, who can identify people in both parties who care more about the country than they care about getting reelected.Yes, those good Democrats who put country first simply knuckle under to Republican antitax intransigence (alas, they may well).
There are Democrats like that. There are Republicans like that. I was the governor of a state that had a few Democrats. People in this room know how many we had in Massachusetts.
ROSE: So it's essential to deal with Democrats and be prepared to compromise on the big issues of our time?
ROMNEY: You have to stand by your principles. At the same time, you know that good Democrats and good Republicans who love the country first will be able to find common ground from time to time and recognize we can't keep on spending like we're spending, we can't demand more from tax revenue from people, because that kills jobs and hurts working families.
2. In the event of another financial crisis, such as one triggered by sovereign debt defaults and subsequent bank failures in the Eurozone, he will stabilize the financial system without bailing out any individual banks. Asked what he would do differently from Bush, Paulson and Bernanke if faced with such a meltdown in 2013, he first refused to consider a "hypothetical," then delivered this self-canceling nonsense:
But I can tell you this -- I'm not interested in bailing out individual institutions that have wealthy people that want to make sure that their shares are worth something. I am interested in making sure that we preserve our financial system, our currency, the banks across the entire country. And I will always put the interest of the American people ahead of the interest of any institution.3. While the Affordable Care Act is a near clone of Romneycare, he will repeal it in his first week in office -- freeing the states to create 50 Romneycare clones of their own. To cover this card trick, he out-and-out misrepresents Obamacare as an opposite to Romneycare in precisely the feature in which they're identical: leaving employer-based health insurance untouched, while creating exchanges composed of private health plans for the uninisured.
GOLDMAN: So would you or would you not be open to another Wall Street bailout?
ROMNEY: No one likes the idea of a Wall Street bailout. I certainly don't.
GOLDMAN: But you said in 2008 that it prevented the collapse of the financial --
ROMNEY: There is no question but that the action of President Bush and that Secretary Paulson took was designed to keep not just a collapse of individual banking institutions, but to keep the entire currency of the country worth something and to keep all the banks from closing, and to make sure we didn't all lose our jobs. My experience tells me that we were on the precipice, and we could have had a complete meltdown of our entire financial system, wiping out all the savings of the American people. So action had to be taken.
Was it perfect? No. Was it well implemented? No, not particularly.
Were there some institutions that should not have been bailed out? Absolutely.
Should they have used the funds to bail out General Motors and Chrysler? No, that was the wrong source for that funding. But this approach of saying, look, we're going to have to preserve our currency and maintain America -- and our financial system is essential.
...I'm proud of the fact that we took on a major problem in my state.To pull off these sleights of hand -- that is, to promise compromise without yielding (on taxes), rescues without bailouts, and Romneycare without Obamacare, Romney has to constantly assert distinctions without differences. The largest of these faux contrasts is between himself and Obama. Chait captures the dynamic:
And the problem was that we had a lot of kids without insurance, a lot of adults without insurance, but it added up to about 8 percent of our population. And we said, you know what, we want to find a way to get those folks insured, but we don't want to change anything for the 92 percent of the people that already have insurance. And so our plan dealt with those 8 percent, not the 92 percent.
One of the problems with Obamacare is he doesn't just deal with the people without insurance. He takes over health care for everyone....
And I'm proud of what we are able to accomplish. I'll tell you this, though. We have the lowest number of kids as a percentage uninsured of any state in America. You [Perry, in Texas] have the highest....
But I'm not running for governor of Massachusetts. I'm running for president of the United States. And as president, I will repeal Obamacare, I'll grant a waiver on day one to get that started, and I'll make sure that we return to the states what we had when I was governor, the right to care for our poor in the way we thought best for our respective states.
Mitt Romney hewed to his constant strategy of turning every question into an over-the-top attack on President Obama, while limiting his exposure to unpopular policy proposals. Romney's theory is that Republican primary voters are angry but uninformed and thus that the extreme conservatism they have displayed since 2009 reflects primal rage rather than any coherent worldview. He believes he can mollify them by satisfying their emotional animus toward Obama, while continuing to advocate policies that, in many cases, are identical to the president's.That's true retroactively if not prospectively. In December 2008, Romney put forward a recovery plan that combined major stimulus, largely through tax cuts and investment in alternative energy, with easing from the Fed. A month earlier, he urged the government to put GM and Chrysler through a managed bankruptcy and restructuring. Earlier still, of course, he laid down the architecture for the Affordable Care Act with his subsidized healthcare exchanges for Massachusetts. And he improved state finances by aggressively closing corporate tax loopholes -- without offsetting the new revenue with further tax cuts.
Thus the imperative to demonize his doppelganger.