When Romney’s campaign said they wouldn’t let their campaign be dictated by fact checkers, I had no idea how seriously they meant it.
By most accounts, Mitt Romney delivered a sucker punch to President Obama in the first of three presidential debates. As I wrote last night, Romney came off as polished and passionate where Obama appeared disinterested and ill-prepared. But while Romney will surely enjoy a successful debate performance for the rest of this week’s news cycle, his shocking misrepresentations of his campaign platform are going to come back to bite him hard.
Pieces are already sprouting up addressing Romney’s loose license with both his campaign stances and reality. The lurch to the middle that made Romney come across so well last night is going to hurt him as soon as people realize that everything Romney said last night that they liked so much lies in direct opposition to everything he and running mate Paul Ryan have been saying for months.
In one of his rare moments of lucidity last night, President Obama quipped that Romney was changing his positions five weeks before the election in an effort to distract people from the campaign he had been running for over a year. And you know what? Obama was right.
On taxes, Romney claimed that he had no intention of cutting taxes on the rich or enacting a tax cut that would increase the deficit. On no planet where math exists is that even remotely true. Romney has repeatedly said he wants to restore and expand the Bush-era tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy. He has stated time and again that he wants to end the estate and gift tax and drop everyone’s tax rates by 20%. Claiming that he has no intention of cutting taxes is blatant dishonesty.
With Medicare, Romney trotted out one of the biggest lies of his campaign season — that President Obama wanted to slash $716 billion from Medicare in cuts that would target seniors. Every fact-checking organization following the campaign trail has declared that to be false, but Romney knows that saying “Obama is cutting $700 billion from Medicare” is easier to score points with than the complex explanation of why that’s not true.
On health care, Romney promised to protect coverage of pre-existing conditions for people who maintain continuous coverage, which would be relevant if it hadn’t already been the law since 1996. Romney also claimed that his plan would cover everyone with pre-existing conditions, something that his campaign explicitly walked back just a few weeks ago, the last time he tried to make that claim. The lie was so bad that Romney’s own campaign adviser admitted that pre-existing conditions would not be covered by the Romney plan immediately following the debate.
But if the lies are so transparent, why lie? Because it seems to work, at least in the short term.
The results of the debate should be proof enough. Within minutes of the debate ending Republicans were gloating on how Romney “crushed” Obama, and Democrats were bemoaning the end of the world and how Obama was throwing the game. Few, if any, major officials decided to focus on details like Romney explicitly saying that his tax plan can just make up the numbers necessary to work or that his tax plan won’t raise taxes while simultaneously claiming he will cut tax deductions (guess what that does to taxes).
However, the press and the public are coming around after their post-Romney debate performance hangover and starting to ask questions. The Obama campaign is already starting to run ads focusing on Romney’s misstatements of fact and pointing out that some of the “studies” Romney cited to in support of his policies were actually editorials. Romney’s campaign has been walking back claims the governor made since the debate ended last night. But the question is whether the damage has already been done.
Romney’s performance and likely poll bump is sure to energize a conservative base that has been lukewarm at best in support of their candidate. To Romney’s base, the fact that he lied isn’t going to be relevant – red-meat voters are looking for style, not substance, and Romney delivered in droves. Energizing the ground game going into the last month of the campaign, especially in swing states, will do a great deal to put Romney back in contention when he was all but out.
The Obama campaign will have to start playing hardball with the Romney campaign if they hope to prevent another debacle like last night. Obama should have anticipated Romney’s sprint for the middle and should have been prepared to call him out on his blatant fabrications. He will have nobody to blame but himself if he fails to prepare accordingly for the next debate. Romney has shown his hand and doubled-down on his flip-flops and hypocrisy. Whether the president decides to call him on it may very well decide the outcome of the election.