Mark Halperin called it the “most important debate moment” of Wednesday night’s CNBC debate. No — it wasn’t Rick Perry’s brain lapse — but instead, Mitt Romney’s attempt to re-frame the debate over ideological consistency.
Read this excerpt of the transcript below, and then let’s discuss…
HARWOOD: … as you know. Your opponents have said you switched positions on many issues. It is an issue of character, not personal, but political, you seemed to encapsulate it in the last debate when you said, “I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake.”
What can you say to Republicans to persuade them that the things you say in the campaign are rooted in something deeper than the fact that you are running for office?
ROMNEY: John, I think people know me pretty well, particularly in this state, in the state of Massachusetts, New Hampshire that’s close by, Utah, where I served in the Olympics. I think people understand that I’m a man of steadiness and constancy.
I don’t think you are going to find somebody who has more of those attributes than I do. I have been married to the same woman for 25 — excuse me, I will get in trouble, for 42 years.
ROMNEY: I have been in the same church my entire life. I worked at one company, Bain, for 25 years. And I left that to go off and help save the Olympic Games. I think it is outrageous the Obama campaign continues to push this idea, when you have in the Obama administration the most political presidency we have seen in modern history.
They are actually deciding when to pull out of Afghanistan based on politics. Let me tell you this, if I’m president of the United States, I will be true to my family, to my faith, and to our country, and I will never apologize for the United States of America. That’s my belief.
This was an interesting diversion. The question was about Romney’s philosophical inconsistency — but he never addressed his changing positions on important issues like abortion. Romney is clearly attempting to associate the two things — as if to imply that not quitting your job equals not flip-flopping on the issues.
… And yet, it wasn’t obvious that he had dodged the question. (Good spin isn’t blatant.)
Of course, the fact that Romney has been with the same wife for 42 years — worked at the same company for 25 years — and belonged to the same church his entire life is, I suppose, commendable. His personal life has been steady, boring, and consistent — nobody has alleged otherwise.
But does it have anything to do with his changing policy positions?
I would argue this was a very slick example of sophistry.
The notion that there is a strong correlation between being consistent in ones personal life, and being philosophically consistent, is debatable. Does anyone doubt that Mark Sanford — with all his faults — would be more trusted than Romney to advance a conservative agenda as president? Jimmy Carter was, as far as I know, a good husband — does that make him philosophically sound?
This, of course, is not to say that values and character do not matter — they do — but it is to say that Romney’s answer was a non sequitur. Everyone knows Mitt Romney is a decent, respectable person. The question is whether or not he can be trusted to advance conservatism as president.
(And attacking Obama at the end was a nice touch, too.)
Update: A Twitter follower notes that unlike Romney, Newt Gingrich has changed wives and churches. And so, Romney’s comments could have the side benefit of also subtly hitting Gingrich.