Political Animal


June 29, 2012 4:10 PM Can Romney Remain Absurd Until November?

By Ed Kilgore

If you will forgive yet another post on the implications of the Supreme Court’s ACA decision, it is important to understand that for all the “excitement” and “motivation” it may create among “base voters,” this development also makes every day on the campaign trail a tightrope for Mitt Romney. He was already going to have to navigate his way to November talking constantly about the economy and the federal budget even as he was stuck with economic and budget policies that would horrify swing voters if they were aware of them. And now there will be no escape from the subject of a national health reform initiative modeled on his own plan in a gubernatorial administration that now seems about a million years away from where he has landed ideologically in order to win his party’s presidential nomination.

National Journal’s Michael Hirsh refers to Romney’s current positioning on health care as presenting an “Absurd Romney:”

The difficulty of Absurd Romney’s task is pointed up by Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist who helped Romney design his 2006 health insurance program in Massachusetts. He says that the then-governor used reasoning and language very similar to that of Chief Justice John Roberts in arguing for the necessity of an individual mandate. While Roberts said that Congress did not have the right to mandate behavior, it did retain the right to “tax and spend,” including penalizing people for not buying health care.
“It’s a penalty for free riding on the system. That’s the way Gov. Romney talked about it,” says Gruber, who later became one of the key architects of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which was modeled in part on the Romney law. “Justice Roberts used similar language today.” Back in the 2000s, when Gruber demonstrated to Romney with computer models that, absent an individual mandate, one-third of Massachusetts’ poorest and sickest would remain uninsured (and drive up costs for everyone), Romney jumped on the point, instantly converted, says Gruber. Romney went at the problem “like a management consultant or an engineer” with no ideological taint, even against the advice of his conservative political advisers, Gruber says. “They were concerned about the politics of universal health care. He argued them down.”
Today, says Gruber, Romney is being “completely disingenuous” in arguing against a law whose principles he once embraced. And somewhat absurd. Gruber says Romney’s suggestion that, as in Massachusetts when he was governor, states should be permitted to decide on their health care plans is also disingenuous. Massachusetts could devise its health care law only because it had access to a large amount of federal money, a $385 million Medicaid grant that it needed to use to extend care to the poor. “He says the states could do it but not the federal government. Well, actually the states can’t do it” because they don’t have the money, says Gruber. “What he should be saying is that he ‘ll give the states a trillion dollars to come up with their own plans, but he’s not going to do that.”

Now some readers will say Romney and most of his supporters don’t give a damn about consistency, logic, or avoiding the appearance of being Absurd, and will just brazen it out. That may be true. But the thing about lying all the time about who you are, what you’ve done, and what you intend to do is that it frequently causes even the most disciplined dissembler to screw up or at least fail to make sense to voters with even minimal discernment. That’s the risk Romney is going to have to take nearly every time he opens his mouth over the next four months.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • T2 on June 29, 2012 4:31 PM:

    I think you are right on two counts, Ed. They will try to "brazen" it out - really, what other choice do they have? And secondly, they will attempt the "brazen out" with a guy who is simply not a "brazen" kind of guy. Call him what you want...serial liar, heartless 1%er, high priest of LDS, but brazen doesn't come to mind at all.
    The result will probably be something along the lines of a Real Big Gaffe or an unforgiveable Flip-Flop that will either make the TeaParty go nuts, and/or send normal people to the voting booth thinking it's probably best to stay with the incumbent.

    I think the SCOTUS decision on ACA comes into play as well. Non-political people (those who don't blog all day right or left) still mostly think of the SC as the final arbiter. If the SC says ACA is ok....then that's that. The Tea Party has been screaming that Obama hijacked the Constitution, but the SC ruled he did not. Most people will remember that and go back to making out their grocery list. If the Conservatives want to keep yelling about it, fine. It was their guy who gave the final OK vote.

  • c u n d gulag on June 29, 2012 4:32 PM:

    Mitt's living a lie.

    And he know it. And he has to lie all of the time, because if his base got even a hint that the "Old Romney" is back, they'd jump ship.
    And without those maniac's manic energy, and grass-level support, he'd have NO chance in November.

    He's re-made his bed, now he has to lie about it.

    Oh - and MA is not only a pretty wealthy state, it also has a ton of medical teaching-hospitals, so that also made it the perfect candidate for this attempt at experimental state-level universal health care. A lot of young doctor and nurse trainees, willing to try new things.

    How many medical teaching-hospitals in OK?

  • plim on June 29, 2012 4:45 PM:

    All he has to do is avoid questions, something his handlers seem quite adept at orchestrating.

  • emjayay on June 29, 2012 4:50 PM:

    But(as heard on NPR just now) the tea partiers are all hot now about redoubling their efforts to regain their stolen liberty. Liberty to game the system by not having insurance and then get treated for cancer and then declare bankrupcy, or for letting (other people) die in the streets or something I guess. OK, actually the liberty to not pay a penny for some black single mother on welfare's kids health care.

  • Oldskool on June 29, 2012 4:52 PM:

    Absurd Romney has Absurd Rove on his team and he's already proven you can absurd your way into a war, given enough absurd lies.

  • Ron Byers on June 29, 2012 4:54 PM:

    Obama and especially Biden need to take every opportunity to rub Romney's nose in Romneycare. I think effusive praise might be just the ticket. Of course, they should quickly add that his mandate "tax" is about twice as much as in Obamacare.

  • T2 on June 29, 2012 4:57 PM:

    eventually there will be debates.

  • emjayay on June 29, 2012 5:05 PM:

    Speaking of teabaggers reminds me of the one big problem for our side about "lying all the time about who you are, what you’ve done, and what you intend to do"...and causing Romney to "screw up or at least fail to make sense to voters with even minimal discernment."

    That is that his opponent has of course commited the unforgivable sin with which nothing can compare: Being President while being (half) black. Not to mention the number of voters who do not apparently posess even the minimal discernment capability.

    It's gonna be interesting, if not the bizarre reality show roller coaster ride of last time. Judging by Romney's response yesterday, not to mention his whole campaign, more of, as Ed mentioned, a relentless consistent amazing and appalling cascade of lies. That he figures will play, given the BPWBB thing.

  • emjayay on June 29, 2012 5:09 PM:

    T2: That crosses my little mind all the time. Lies, lies, lies, lies, DEBATES. Oh please God wipe the floor with him Barry, while of course not sighing or rolling your eyes or anything.

  • N.Wells on June 29, 2012 5:10 PM:

    "eventually there will be debates."
    Yes, but Bush ended up with the presidency anyway, twice.

  • T2 on June 29, 2012 5:16 PM:

    @N.Wells...point taken....certainly the Networks will produce a panel of talking heads that will argue that each man did enough to "win". But Obama ain't Rick Perry.
    I've seen enough of Mitt to know that when he is confronted, well, "brazen" he ain't. Hopefully Obama will realize the stakes of the situation and bring his A game.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on June 29, 2012 5:19 PM:

    I just gotta say: That is one of the best titles of the past four years!!

    I haven't even read the post yet.

  • Doug on June 29, 2012 5:38 PM:

    People keep saying all sorts of ridiculous things about this country's voters. "Sheeple" they're not. Unattentive, yes. Distracted, yes. Surprisingly carelss about how their tax dollars are spent - definitely - but "sheeple", no! Very few vote for a candidate SIMPLY because that candidate "told" them to.
    Any candidate has to first convince those voters one ot two things, either that the candidate believes in the same things the wished-for voters do or else the candidate has to convince the wished-for voters that voting for him is in the best interests of the voter, the party and the country, take your pick.
    Romney's cut himself off from those voters who were his only chance at winning in November by denying everything he apparently ever stood for as a politician to attain the GOP nomination.
    He has to, literally, pray for some sort of disaster, economic, political, military, between now and November; anything to keep the focus away from what he WAS and what he now SAYS he IS. Trouble is, there's just too much evidence, videos, etc, around that can, and most likely WILL, be used against him.
    The most GOP voter-suppression tactics will get them is to reduce the lead Democrats already have over Republicans. That won't be enough...

  • @TeaPartyCat on June 29, 2012 5:40 PM:

    More to the point-- it doesn't matter what Romney's base thinks. At this point it matters what handfuls of swing voters think.

  • jjm on June 29, 2012 6:02 PM:

    Romney is toast.

    Sure he'll be spread with all the money the 1% can spare, but it won't hide his toast-iness.

  • TCinLA on June 29, 2012 6:06 PM:

    This is why we need to start calling it "National Romneycare." Let him argue his way out of it, it's true.

  • freelunch on June 29, 2012 6:22 PM:

    Meanwhile, Romney and his crazy governors are not even on the same page about really sensible things like purchasing exchanges. Some of the governors (Walker and Jindal at least) are saying they won't bother to plan for an exchange -- apparently they don't care about those who are being gouged right now, usually small businessmen -- while Romney is saying that will stay if he wins. Oy.

  • bcinaz on June 29, 2012 6:23 PM:

    I wonder how many voters are actually exposed to Romney's lies. Other than Rachel and a few others on the left, the remainder of the MSM treats RomneyLies like farts at a recital. What will doom him is his truth. The stuff about outsourcing pioneer and off-shoring is sticking because it's pretty accurate. Making million driving companies into the ground - many unemployed Americans lived through something like that. All negative all the time with NO POSITIVE STORY TO TELL (the relevant Bain stats are pretty negative)and offering no real answers other than "I have a secret plan to save the universe" and I'll tell you if you give me your car keys - doesn't sound much like a plan, it sounds like a threat.

  • Allen on June 30, 2012 3:54 AM:

    Romney is a monster of cynicism