Political Animal


October 02, 2012 11:17 AM The Debate Question Mitt Can’t Answer

By Ed Kilgore

We’ve heard repeatedly that Team Romney has developed and honed some “zingers” for tomorrow night’s first candidate debate. Since Mitt is not exactly a natural comedian, you’d have to figure said “zingers” are likely to be cleverly loaded presentations of his stock attacks on the president, along the lines of his convention speech pitch to 2008 Obama voters that “the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.”

But you also have to figure Obama has some planned “zingers,” too, and in case it hasn’t occurred to his people, I’d strongly urge that one of them be this: “Governor Romney, how exactly do your economic policies differ from those of George W. Bush?”

As First Read notes today, this is a question Romney would really struggle to answer. Conservatives have managed to convince themselves over the last four years or so that Bush went wrong by failing to control federal spending, but when you look an inch under that assertion (dubious in itself, since most of the people retroactively criticizing W. had few problems with his fiscal record when they were lionizing him as a world-historical colossus spreading freedom and democracy to the Middle East), it’s the more popular aspects of Bush’s domestic agenda—notably the addition of an Rx drug benefit to Medicare—that they now excoriate as betrayals of conservative principle.

Insofar as Romney is unlikely to distinguish himself from Bush by coming right out and saying that he and his party are committed to a wholesale assault on the New Deal and Great Society programs (though a follow-up question asking him to repeat his commitment to sign the Ryan Budget if it passes Congress would provide some useful information), I’d guess he’d make vague noises about dealing with the budget deficit and then just repeat his talking points on his alleged “five-point plan for jobs and growth.” But the evasion will provide plenty of good ammunition for the Obama campaign down the stretch, even if Mitt doesn’t stammer and sweat.

UPDATE: If you’re having trouble remembering W.’s economic policies, it’s a good time to subscribe to the Washington Monthly and score a free copy of the new ebook: Elephant in the Room: Washington in the Bush Years.

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.


  • truthbetold on October 02, 2012 11:27 AM:

    He has to practice zingers? Maybe all Obama should say then is that one you practice there Mitt?

  • wab on October 02, 2012 11:39 AM:

    Obama: “Governor Romney, how exactly do your economic policies differ from those of George W. Bush?”

    Romney: "Mr. President, this election is a referendum on your failed economic policies."

    I sincerely hope that Obama's handlers have better "zingers" than the one you suggest.

  • davidp on October 02, 2012 11:39 AM:

    Good point. The reason the GOP are so quiet about W is not that they have rejected his policies, but rather that they still love his policies and are hoping that the voters won't notice.

  • lb 22 on October 02, 2012 11:40 AM:

    I was thinking the same thing.

    "I heard you were practicing zingers in front of a mirror Mitt." after the first one should blunt the rest.

  • Danp on October 02, 2012 11:46 AM:

    Now, which Mitt am I talking to now?

  • CColucci on October 02, 2012 11:47 AM:

    A few of mine:

    "I can't figure out whether Governor Romney is being more mysterious about his tax returns or his tax policies."

    "Governor Romney may want to make this election about my record, but at least I'm running on my record, not away from it."

  • AfGuy on October 02, 2012 11:47 AM:

    "I heard you were practicing zingers in front of a mirror Mitt."

    And the audience there didn't think they were funny either...

  • c u n d gulag on October 02, 2012 11:48 AM:

    Why is it that I think that when the carefully rehearsed Shecky Romney delivers a "zinger," it'll come across as more of a "stinker?"

    And Obama's response to Mitt should be, "So, how are your policies of doing what President Bush did, except now with steroids, going to help us get out of the mess that he and your party got this country into? Hair of the dog? Oops! You don't drink - and sorry about that 'dog' reference, Governor Romney."

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on October 02, 2012 12:04 PM:

    Will the be a drum kit set up off stage somewhere to alert the audience that Mitt has dropped one his zingers????? Da-Dum-Tssssh!!!!!

    If Mitt were smart he'd just stage his own One-Man Debate with an Empty Chair. He can drop all the damn zingers he wants without having pesky interruptions from the President or the Moderators. He can even add menacing-sounding music.

    I need to buy some popcorn....

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on October 02, 2012 12:08 PM:

    will "there" be

  • Anonymous on October 02, 2012 1:15 PM:

    Of course the biggest difference is that Romney has his five points in a slightly different order from Bush.

  • Blue Girl on October 02, 2012 2:41 PM:

    The only way Rmoney is going to get off anything close to a zinger is if he has Jason Sudeikis from SNL come out in his Mitt persona and do the debate for him.

  • Daniel Kim on October 02, 2012 2:41 PM:

    @wab on October 02, 2012 11:39 AM:
    I'm afraid you're right. The problem with asking Mitt difficult questions is that he is a sociopath. He will have no problem at all being totally sincere while he lies and evades. He will have no discomfort, but will speak with absolute certainty. You won't see him stammer or sweat. He'll just lie, or he will talk about his plan to cut taxes for 'everyone' by 'closing loopholes' while 'eliminating waste.'

    Any question that he must answer will have to back him into a corner from which he cannot escape without presenting some kind of detail.

  • schtick on October 02, 2012 3:24 PM:

    If you look at Willard's history, he's always made demands of others that he refuses to keep himself and the voters of Mass let him. I hope the country doesn't become that stupid, too.
    I know how to balance the budget and I'll tell you how after I get elected. Right. Just like McCain knew how to win wars and he would tell everyone after he got elected. I didn't know that winning wars was getting captured by the enemy and promoting propaganda for them, but hey, I'm not a teapub so it doesn't make sense to me.

  • jaimeshawn on October 02, 2012 3:43 PM:

    Even worse question for Romney, "How are you any different from the current Secretary of Treasury, Tim Geitner?"

  • tpaine on October 02, 2012 4:03 PM:

    Why would you want to? Unemployment at under 5% or basically full employment . . hence the lack of NEW job creation, but after six years of Democrat stewardship, we've got 14,000,000 Americans looking for work so that's not an issue.
    GDP growth at 3% which beats heck Obama-Pelosi-Reid's "no growth" economy which, now, it appears is headed for another Recesssion.

  • Doug on October 02, 2012 5:38 PM:

    tpaine, you've omitted just a few items in your little diatribe. Items such as the last 12 months of GWB's second term when the recession began. THAT'S when unemployment started rising, you know. I know it's mean of me, but it WAS during the Bush administration that the financial sector crashed and it WAS the Republicans in Congress who were willing to let the whole eddifice crumble while various of those members such as Cantor were betting on just that happening. In other words, Republican obstruction and intransigence.
    The ONLY reason for the most recent recession lasting as long as it did can be laid at the feet of the Republicans in Congress. EVERY recession since 1930 has been met with the same response: increase Federal spending until the economy evens out and begins to recover. EVERY recession EXCEPT this last one. The difference? That very same Republican obstruction and intransigence.
    EVERY attempt made by the Obama adminstration to maintain or increase job levels that requires Congressional approval has been blocked by Congressional Republicans. If you wish to blame anyone for the tepid recovery you can find those responsible in the Republican Party.
    But you already knew that, didn't you?