Political Animal


October 18, 2012 12:02 PM Mitt’s Moderate “Tonality”

By Ed Kilgore

Both TNR’s Alec MacGillis and WaPo’s Dana Milbank have been asking a pretty obvious question this week: if, as the most political observers (other than yours truly) seem to think, Mitt Romney has “moved to the center” or “promoted a moderate agenda” or whatever, why are the conservative activists who own his party putting up with it? Does one good debate performance justify all sin and heresy now? And is the old “moderate Republican” heritage of winning elections “in the center” making an unlikely comeback, as the MSM so desperately wants it to do in order to make partisan-equivalancy journalism work?

Milbank decided to go right to the horse’s mouth on this, and asked Grover Norquist what he thought of Moderate Mitt. The answer was highly instructive:

“I hear all this as tonal,” Grover Norquist, the Republican purity enforcer and keeper of the antitax pledge, told me. Romney’s new pledge that his tax cuts wouldn’t increase the deficit, for example, could be honored simply by using an alternative accounting method, known as “dynamic scoring,” that conservatives favor. “You’re now in the general election and you’ve already convinced conservatives why they should vote for you,” Norquist said of Romney. “You’re now talking to undecided voters, who have a completely different set of issues.”

Milbank goes directly on to suggest that conservative commissars like Norquist have decided to give Mitt all the slack he needs. But read that second sentence in the quote up above once again: Grover is very specifically saying that if Mitt’s blood-pledge to the conservative movement to cut high-end taxes comes into conflict with the no-increase-in-deficits promise he’s making now, Mitt can just lie about it and go right ahead with the all-important tax cut. “I hear all this as tonal” means “it doesn’t mean a damn thing.”

MacGillis is a bit more careful than Milbank in conceding there’s anything much to Romney’s rhetorical moderation, noting it’s often just rhetorical (as with his implicit endorsement of workplace diversity and some sort of nonspecific interest in a path to citizenship for the children of undocumented workers, both of which were expressed in the second debate). But Alec figures “the leash” will be “snapped tight again” if Romney actually wins, while the impression of Romney moderation could prove useful as an excuse if he loses. That an interesting observation: movement conservatives may be playing a game as devious as Mitt himself.

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.


  • CA Pol Junkie on October 18, 2012 12:13 PM:

    Regarding "DREAMers", you had to listen to Romney's words carefully. He was saying they should have a path to permanent residency along the lines of the vaporware Rubio plan, not citizenship.

  • Mimikatz on October 18, 2012 12:21 PM:

    Anyone who falls for this "Moderate Mitt" sh*t is fooling themselves and not facing the reality that if Mitt wins, it is likely the GOP wins the Senate. Then the GOP House crazies are in control and Mitt will never, never stand up to them unless they try to outlaw the LDS religion. Short of that they have him by the short hairs and he will dance to their tune.

    My feeling is that the pundits who rationalize a Mitt victory this way are masking their own selfishness about really favoring Mitt's tax policies despite the damage they will do because they will benefit at least in the short term. But think 10-20 years down the road and what your children will be facing with climate change, permanent income inequality etc. Do you really think wealth at your level will save you?

  • Peter C on October 18, 2012 12:22 PM:

    Republicans don't mind when their leaders lie to the public. What they can't stand is when their leaders lie to them. We're the enemy; lying to us is fine.

  • KYDem on October 18, 2012 12:27 PM:

    Mitt 's moderation? The right wing has ways to shut that whole thing down.

  • grandpa john on October 18, 2012 12:40 PM:

    Well as they say " When ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise"
    Mitt lied his way through the primaries, he has lied all through the campaign. How naive does one have to be to think that now he is now telling the truth?

  • Gandalf on October 18, 2012 12:41 PM:

    I'm beginning to think that a large mass of americans are delusional. They don't believe global warming is taking place or that it's directly related to human activities in spite of the mass of available evidence.

    They believe tax cuts will solve all economic problems in spite of the facts that show it just hasn't worked that way in the past.
    hell! they believe the earth is only a few thousand years old in spite of all evidence and scientific data to the contrary.

    Mitt Romney lies repeatedly and they believe him in spite of verifiable evidence that he's lying.

    For crying out loud we're returning to the dark ages when almost everyone alive thought that the world was flat.

    What is it with these people? Do they need a disaster in order to wake there dumb asses up?

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on October 18, 2012 12:43 PM:

    I wonder how his fellow challengers from the GOP primaries feel about his newly (re?)discovered moderation?

    I guess we'll find out after the election. If he wins, Where's my appointment?, if he loses, Insufficiently Conservative!

    Well, jeepers! This might get interesting afterall...

  • Bokonon on October 18, 2012 12:46 PM:

    And the media eats up the big, heaping plate that the GOP is serving with a smile and a salute. They will happily report on the media strategy and visuals all day long, and they will gladly poll voters on how they feel about Romney's appearance and performance and word choices and whether he seems to care about their issues. But media won't go past the surface and address on the substance any other place than their opinion pages, because ... you know ... they don't want to be partisan or anything.

    And Romney flipping well knows it. He is playing them like a fiddle. This is right out of the "New Nixon" playbook ...

  • T2 on October 18, 2012 12:46 PM:

    Mitt has said he will do anything to get to 50.5% - at which point the Conservatives will declare a Mandate to do whatever they want. The one thing that I've taken away from the Romney campaign (and I doubt I'm alone on this) is that he is a Win at any Cost guy who feels that, either by wealth or by LDS faith, he is entitled to be president. Conservatives like Norquist may find out that Romney and the Mormon Church have plans that don't involve Norquist's particular brand of Conservatism. And Norquist may find out that Romney doesn't have any problem lying to him, just as he's lied to the rest of us.

  • Calvin Ross on October 18, 2012 1:02 PM:

  • c u n d gulag on October 18, 2012 1:31 PM:

    Mitt wants the pomp and circumstances of being President.

    He doesn't give a sh*t about the consequences of what he says, or what he does, while he is President.

    He'll leave the actual leading of the country to some minions and lackey's, while he does the ceremonial things.

    And if everything falls apart, like a good CEO, he'll have designated scape-goats.

    And if things unravel completely?
    Well, it's ok.
    Mitt will always have his off-shore accounts to comfort him, and let him move anywhere he wants, and live in comfort.

  • jjm on October 18, 2012 1:31 PM:

    The man is simply a salesman who will try any pitch to seal the deal. However I detected not one single word of 'moderateness' in his debate performances. He's a complete phony.

    What tells the tale on Mitt for me? His son saying during the debate he wanted to punch Obama in the mouth. He raised sons as nasty or perhaps nastier than he is.

  • rea on October 18, 2012 1:37 PM:

    Romney’s new pledge that his tax cuts wouldn’t increase the deficit, for example, could be honored simply by using an alternative accounting method, known as “dynamic scoring,” that conservatives favor.

    That's an odd thing to say. Before the fact, dynamic scoring can be used to argue that the proposed tax cuts won't increase the deficit. After the fact, though, when all the taxes are collected and the bills are paid, you either have an increased deficit or you don't.

  • Bokonon on October 18, 2012 1:41 PM:

    The GOP always has a ready-made excuse whenever their "dynamic scoring" or their other magic thinking on fical policy doesn't work out -


  • DisgustedWithItAll on October 18, 2012 1:49 PM:

    Awwwww, c'mon. I can't believe words are being wasted on this like there's any doubt about what is going on.

    The Mitt-iot could turn into Karl Marx and the Useful Idiots would still vote for him. All he did was wait till the first "debate" so that it would completely flummox Obama an leave him gasping for breath at the sheer obnoxious audaciousness of it. Mission accomplished.

    But there's no "moderate" Mitt. Good fucking grief. It's just one (actually many) lie(s) in the script. The 20th century must be erased an it WILL be erased.

    The shit is GOING down. Right in front of your eyes.

  • Col Bat Guano on October 18, 2012 3:07 PM:

    My question concerns all those conservative activists and how they square the circle that all the policies they support are so unpopular that the candidate has to basically disavow any allegiance to them. What do they believe will happen when Romney begins implementing them?

  • dalloway on October 18, 2012 6:37 PM:

    All of the punditry about "Is Mitt a moderate?" is utter nonsense. Mitt is a construct, a robot with just enough working digits, as Grover also said, to sign what they put in front of him. Romney is the bitch of the far right and of his deep pocket donors. They OWN him. If he's elected, he'll do exactly what they want him to: virtually exempt the super rich from taxes, dismantle the New Deal, abolish the EPA, declare fetuses people, and start a new war with Iran. And that's just day one.