Mitt Romney’s Etch A Sketch has had a very busy few days. Just as his campaign advisor Eric Fehrnstrom promised, Romney is abandoning his self-described “severely conservative” persona, and what we know his real agenda to be, in favor of a newfound moderate image.
It started in Wednesday night’s debate, when Romney—after running hard to the right on every issue for the last six years—suddenly switched positions on a range of issues. Romney falsely claimed, for example, not to be proposing a deficit-busting tax cut for the wealthy on the back of the middle class, even though his tax plan is just that. And he swore he would increase funding for education, even though his budget and that of his running mate would require cuts to federal education spending.
On Friday, after Romney had apparently been given a free pass from conservatives for his apostasies, Romney decided it was finally safe for him to repudiate his notorious assertion that the 47 percent of Americans who do not pay income taxes are lazy and entitled wards of the state. (They are largely retirees, the disabled and the working poor.) Since that position is dogma on the far right, Romney stood by the comments, even as they hurt his poll standings. But in an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, Romney said, “Now and then you’re going to say something that doesn’t come out right. In this case, I said something that’s just completely wrong…. my life has shown that I care about 100 percent.”
And on Monday Romney delivered a foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute, in which he reversed a number of his previous positions.
Given President Obama’s success in combating Al Qaeda, Romney has been largely at a loss as to how to draw a contrast on national security. For most of the campaign, he has avoided articulating a foreign policy approach, in favor of single-minded focus on the economy.
When he has had to take positions on international issues, Romney has used every conceivable attack on Obama, even ones that are mutually exclusive, without articulating a remotely coherent vision of his own. During the debate, as he has throughout the campaign, Romney attacked Obama both for cutting defense spending and for not doing enough to promote the Simpson-Bowles commission report on deficit reduction. But Simpson-Bowles calls for cutting defense spending significantly. If, as Romney asserts, the defense sequestration cuts would endanger national security, then so would Simpson-Bowles. (Romney also conveniently ignores the fact that his own running mate, Representation Paul Ryan (R-WI), voted for the sequestration cuts and against Simpson-Bowles.)
In his speech, Romney made similarly hypocritical, self-contradictory arguments. In essence, Romney tried to portray himself as a more aggressive advocate of America’s national interest and opponent of America’s enemies. But that can come into conflict with his own professed admiration for free trade and his oft-repeated assertion that the United States should stand by its allies even when they are wrong.