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June 30, 2011 10:05 AM Romney’s moment of weakness

By Steve Benen

With the race for the Republican presidential nomination in full swing, the candidates aren’t just being confronted by voters, reporters, and potential donors — they’re being confronted by lots of pledges.

The goal, from the pledges’ authors, is to lock candidates in to a specific agenda from which they will not and cannot deviate. The measures are extremely restrictive, and that’s the point — this is about getting candidates to commit to certain courses of action, regardless of circumstances or public needs, before they even take office.

So why in the world would candidates sign them? Because the pledges’ authors tend to be powerful and influential, and failing to sign makes a primary victory that much more difficult.

Grover Norquist’s ridiculous anti-tax pledge is probably the most famous, but Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a kingmaker in right-wing circles, is pushing his own measure called the Cut, Cap, and Balance pledge, which has been endorsed by Pawlenty, Gingrich, Santorum, Paul, and Cain.

Yesterday, the Republican frontrunner joined them.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) will become the latest signatory to a pledge being promoted by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) as a litmus test for presidential candidates.

Romney indicated on Capitol Hill that he’s a supporter of the new “Cut, Cap and Balance” pledge, and his campaign confirmed Wednesday that he intends to sign it.

This is important for a couple of reasons. The first and most obvious is that Romney is adding his name to a truly insane proposal. DeMint’s pledge says that the federal debt limit must not be extended unless Congress approves massive spending cuts, enforceable spending caps, and a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Romney, who used to reject “gimmickry” like this garbage, is actually willing to put his name on a pledge that would likely cause national default. This isn’t just a right-wing move; it’s total madness.

The other point to keep in mind is that Romney apparently felt this was necessary. He’s the ostensible frontrunner, but if he were confident that none of his rivals could catch him, Romney wouldn’t be sucking up to Jim DeMint; he’d be telling Jim DeMint to suck up to him.

Signing this pledge, in other words, is a sign of weakness and cowardice. Romney didn’t want to sign it, but he lacks the confidence to listen to his instincts. It’s almost pathetic.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • Gov't Mule on June 30, 2011 10:12 AM:

    Typical Slick Willard. He's so mealy-mouthed. Every time he speaks, crap spews out of his mouth. I guess that's revenge for strapping Seamus to the roof.

  • berttheclock on June 30, 2011 10:14 AM:

    "Cut, cap and balance" Couldn't they just shorten this to their real scheme of "Slash and Burn" with "Pillage" being veiled in the background?

  • c u n d gulag on June 30, 2011 10:15 AM:

    Romney knows that if he doesn't sign, the flying monkeys who vote in Republican primaries will wing it with someone else.

    Slightly OT - but did you all see Grover Norquist on Colbert the other night? Colbert asked him if the term "Under God" was in his pledge, and if not, why not?
    I love Colbert. Stewart, too, but what Colbert does is tougher to pull off.

  • Danp on June 30, 2011 10:19 AM:

    If Norquist or DeMint's PAC's give money to Romney or anyone else who signs these pledges, it should be considered a quid pro quo. It's buying influence in the most blatant sense.

  • Fang on June 30, 2011 10:22 AM:

    Almost pathetic? No,it is pathetic.

    The Republican party is really an insane media concoction these days. To lead you have to play all sorts of media and patronage games - and you can't deviate. The party is now built to avoid actual leadership and merely put in yes-person figureheads and rabble-rousers.

    Imagine a president Romney (as hard as it is) confronted with real crises and problems. Anyone who buckles like this isn't going to be able to truly lead when the chips are down. He's either too weak, or he'll end up find himself caught up in so many weird obligations, pledges, and panders he'll do the wrong thing anyway.

  • Mr. Serf Man on June 30, 2011 10:24 AM:

    Ah' Hereby de-clair by placing my hand on this here stack -o-bibles and signing this pledge that I am now a 100% member of the batshit crazy party.

    Absolutely necessary these days if ya want to be a contender

    Won't hurt their standing with persistent 30%

  • Texas Aggie on June 30, 2011 10:26 AM:

    Considering that Romney has made reversing previous positions into an art form, I doubt that he will feel bound by the pledge. Why should anyone feel bound by what is essentially extortion and blackmail?

  • T2 on June 30, 2011 10:30 AM:

    Face it, Romney is a dick.

  • Josef K on June 30, 2011 10:32 AM:

    A few weeks back, Steve wrote a piece warning against becoming "inured" to this kind madness. I fear its too late for that and we can no longer expect better from the GOP. The entire party, leadership as well as rank-and-file, are on crazy pills.

    These "pledges"? Nothing more or less than what we've come to expect.

  • rrk1 on June 30, 2011 10:39 AM:

    Signs of madness among the Rethugs hardly require labeling anymore. Whatever comes out of their mouths is bound to be certifiably insane, and in a reality-based world would be mocked, ignored and dismissed. Alas we do not live in that world anymore. The madness is bound to get more ridiculous as the media-driven presidential horserace speeds up. When all of this nonsense eventually crashes, as it must, I shudder to think of what comes after.

  • Kathryn on June 30, 2011 10:46 AM:

    "A sign of weakness and cowardice" = Mitt Romney.

    The sight of his eager to please puss, perfectly coiffed hair nauseates me. He has no principles, just win at any price and will fold like a cheap suit (while wearing an impeccably tailored one) to the bat shit wing of the GOP (90%)as soon as he's sworn in, should the catastrophe of his election occur. Shortly thereafter, we will be living in Koch Brothers, USA.

  • wvmcl2 on June 30, 2011 11:11 AM:

    A cultural reference to Wagner's Ring Cycle: The reason for the Gods' downfall was that Wotan had concluded too many conflicting agreements and pledges, all of them inscribed on his staff. In the end, the staff broke, precipitating "Goetterdaemmerung."

  • Dex on June 30, 2011 11:20 AM:

    Why are the rethug candidates beholden to Demint, he could not be elected to anything out of his element, viz., the bigoted constituency in the south?

  • Dex on June 30, 2011 11:24 AM:

    *contingency

  • dcshungu on June 30, 2011 11:51 AM:

    This isn�t just a right-wing move; it�s total madness

    What's the difference? Aren't the two one and the same in 2011?

  • JS on June 30, 2011 12:50 PM:

    Most people have instincts that they listen to. Mitt Romney has a little pollster in his head that tells him what to support at any given moment.

  • Stephen Stralka on June 30, 2011 1:01 PM:

    Sure it's pathetic, but that's fine with me. Anything that improves the Democrats' chances next year. If the Republicans want to make the 2012 elections a referendum on whether we should basically gut the federal government, I think they're going to find out that the Tea Party does not actually speak for most Americans. Unless they can stop enough blacks and young people from voting, they're not going to win that one. (And if they do we're screwed, so I'll just become a heroin addict and try to enjoy the little time we have left.)

  • Stephen Stralka on June 30, 2011 1:16 PM:

    I mean, it certainly gives Obama a great weapon. I can just imagine him debating Romney: "Look, my opponent has signed a pledge stating that he will never raise taxes. Under any circumstances. Think about that. The equivalent would be if I had signed a pledge stating that I will never cut taxes. But I haven't done that, and I never would, because it would be deeply irresponsible. It's just too hard to govern effectively when you're wearing an ideological straitjacket..." And so on.

  • Zorro on June 30, 2011 2:08 PM:

    Mittens demonstrating "weakness and cowardice?" You don't say!

    -Z

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