Let's look at* the exchange over immigration policy:
BAIER: In recent days, you've charged that Speaker Gingrich was proposing amnesty essentially with what he said in that last debate.You were attacking him on immigration, but you took what seemed like a very similar position back in 2006-2007, telling Bloomberg that some illegal immigrants need to be allowed to stay, come out of the shadows, and, quote, "we need to begin a process of registering those people, some being returned, some beginning the process of applying for citizenship and establishing legal status. We're not going to go through a process of tracking them all down and moving them out."
BAIER: Is that different than where you are now?
ROMNEY: You know, my view is that those people that are here illegally today should have the opportunity to register and to have their status identified and those individuals should get in line with everyone else that's in line legally. They should not be placed ahead of the line. They should, instead, go at the back of the line, and they should not be allowed to stay in this country and be given permanent residency or citizenship merely because they've come here illegally.
BAIER: But isn't that what Gingrich is saying? Isn't he saying short of citizenship
ROMNEY: I can't tell you what Speaker Gingrich is saying.
BAIER: But yet you call him --
ROMNEY: Bret, no. If he's going to do what I believe he said he was going to do for those people who would be allowed to stay permanently and become citizens, that would be providing for them a form of amnesty. But my view is, and I can tell you what -- I'll let him describe his view. My view is pretty straightforward.For those people who've come here illegally, they should have the opportunity to get in line with everybody else who wants to come in to this country, but, they go to the back of the line and they should be given no special pathway to citizenship or permanent residency merely because they've come here illegally.
BAIER: The question is what you do with the 11 million plus people who are already here and how you handle them. And back in 2006-2007, you made a point in saying, we're not going to round them all up and send them out.
ROMNEY: That's right.
BAIER: So, what do you do with them?
ROMNEY: You know, there's great interest on the part of some to talk about what we do with the 11 million. My interest is saying, let's make sure that we secure the border, and we don't do anything that talks about bringing in a new wave of those or attracting a new wave of people into the country illegally.The right course for us is to secure the border and say nothing about amnesty or tuition breaks to illegal aliens or anything else that draws people into the country illegally. The right course, secure the border, and then, we can determine what's the right way to deal with the 11 million and to make it as clear as I possibly can.
Here, Romney misrepresents Gingrich's policy (claiming that it's to let undocumented aliens become citizens), affects not to know the Gingrich policy for which he's attacked Gingrich (give some undocumented aliens a chance to apply for permanent residency), leaves unexplained a key element of his own policy (what happens to the undocumented after you've induced them to register?), changes the subject when pushed on this question (let's secure the border first), and promises an unequivocal answer to that question after something that will never happen happens. He expends a good deal of verbiage outlining a policy that no one, least of all Baier, can make any sense of, distinguishing it incomprehensibly from Gingrich's. Also lost in the sauce: any difference between the Romney of 2006 and the Romney of today.
So what's new? This is precisely how Romney has operated in the debates. The only difference is that Baier pushed back longer than any debate opponent has done, or had the opportunity to do. Romney hit all his talking points -- go to the back of the line, no amnesty, secure the border first. His syntax wasn't mangled, he didn't betray ignorance of any key facts, and he wasn't at a loss for words, discounting a momentary stammer over the point he would not spell out. If this kind of evasion seems damning, it's because the audience has reached a turning point, not because Romney's m.o. has changed.
The healthcare exchange was also familiar territory:
BAIER: About your book, you talk about Massachusetts healthcare. We've heard you many times, in the debates and interviews, talk about how it is different in your mind than the president's healthcare law, Obamacare. The question is, do you still support the idea of a mandate? Do you believe that that was the right thing for Massachusetts? do you think a mandate, mandating people to buy insurance is the right tool?Regarding the factual disagreement, Romney said that he'd like to think that the Mass plan could be a model for the nation, but if pressed he would claim that he never said it should be Federal law. If pressed further, I imagine he'd say that he had hoped that most if not all states would eventually choose the Mass model. As for his pithy set of contrasts between his plan and Obamacare, it's a plateful of red herrings: his plan didn't cost $1 trillion because the population of Massachusetts is 2+% that of the whole country; he didn't raise taxes because Massachusetts had a $2 billion Medicaid windfall; Medicare is irrelevant, and if President, he'd cut it more than Obama would; and the constitutionality of the mandate is irrelevant to its utility or justice. Baier, like all of Romney's nomination rivals, failed to point out that Obamacare clones Romneycare's core structure, that all the features of the Mass plan that Romney touts -- private exchanges, premium support, the individual mandate -- are part of Obamacare. So again, this was echt Romney: erasing the difference between past position and present, rattling off bogus talking points about the ACA, obscuring its close kinship to Romneycare.
ROMNEY: Bret, I don't know how many hundred times I've said this, too. This is an unusual interview. (LAUGHTER)
ROMNEY: All right. Let's do it again. Absolutely. What we did in Massachusetts was right for Massachusetts. I've said that time and time again, that people of the state continue to support it by about 3-1, but it's also designed for Massachusetts, not for the nation, and at the time our bill was passed, and that was brought forward as an issue, there were people who said, is this something you'd like to have the entire nation do?I said no. This is not a federal plan, it's a state plan. And under the constitution, states should be able to craft their own plans, and our plan--
BAIER: So, governor, you did say on camera and other places that, at times, you thought it would be a model for the nation.
ROMNEY: You're wrong, Bret.
BAIER: No, no. There's tape --
BAIER: You think that you are well positioned to go up against President Barack Obama on the issue of healthcare?
ROMNEY: Of course. The best equipped, the best equipped. I understand healthcare. I spent a good portion of my career working in healthcare. I came up with a plan, unlike his, that doesn't cost a trillion dollars. Unlike his, we didn't raise taxes. Unlike his, I didn't cut Medicare by half a trillion dollars.
It's true that Romney was aggressive with Baier -- he told him he was wrong, that he'd been gulled by Democratic ads, that he'd misunderstood Romney's past pronouncements; and he complained about the tenor of the interview in mid-stream. But all that could be spun as standing up forcefully to tough questioning. And the interview was in fact unusual. Yes, it's par for the course in a good faith big league interview for a candidate to be challenged in the terms that rivals are challenging him in -- but usually the challenging segments are balanced by giving the candidate openings to blather on in his own terms for a while about his 'positive vision.' This one was all challenge
I think that reaction to this interview reflects the crystallization of long latent and long building disgust with Romney's longstanding modes of obfuscation.
*Partial transcript courtesy of RedState