Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Calling Him A Liar

It was the obvious question for Romney surrogate Tim Pawlenty, and Lawrence O'Donnell asked it yesterday:

Newt Gingrich says about Mitt Romney, what will you tell me next time? That is the fundamental problem Romney has with the Republican electorate, isn`t it?

Undeterred by Pawlenty's decision not to answer that question- you couldn't really blame him, could you?- O'Donnell prefaced his next question with

Now, but in the past he`s been on the other side of a lot of those issues.

O'Donnell stayed on that theme, of course, prompted by the remarks earlier in the day of Romney's chief rival, Newt Gingrich, who maintained

I wouldn’t lie to the American people. I wouldn’t switch my positions for political reasons. It’s perfectly reasonable to change your position if facts change. If you see new things you didn’t see – everybody’s done that, Ronald Reagan did that. It’s wrong to go around to adopt radically different positions based on your need of any one election, then people will have to ask themselves, ‘What will you tell me next time?’

The sun rises in the east, sets in the west, and Mitt Romney changes his positions for political reasons. That's not unlike Newt Gingrich, who might be asked what facts changed between his expression (with Speaker Pelosi) of support for addressing global warming to his loss of faith in the reality of climate change.

Attacking Gingrich for himself taking both sides on an issue would be risky for the former Massachusetts governor, given his own, er, ideological flexibility. He would, however, benefit from noting that lifelong conservative George Will has pithily identified Newt as "the classic rental politician."

And he would benefit even more by confronting the former House Speaker on the latter's aforementioned remarks. Far from merely pointing out that Romney has switched positions, Gingrich also strongly implied that Romney routinely lies. In asserting "I wouldn't lie to the American people. I wouldn't switch my positions for political reasons," Newt is drawing a double distinction with the GOP front-runner: he wouldn't switch his positions for political reasons, nor would he lie to the American people.

Whether Mitt Romney "lies to the American people" is immaterial to the charge having been made, and to Romney's strategic advantage in noting that Gingrich has made such a claim. Romney would appear to be whining by responding to Gingrich as Bob Dole responded to George HW Bush- "stop lying about my record." But he needs to invoke the legendary 11th commandment of St. Reagan, "thou shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican." Romney might casually refer to his friendship with Nancy Reagan, suggest that President Reagan would be appalled, and call for a show of unity among Republican candidates in opposition to Barack Obama.

It is, not ironically, a tactic Gingrich has used to his advantage in the debates. He has quite consiously attacked the press for allegedly trying to divide the GOP candidates and failing to recognize that they have much more in common with each other than differences. No Republican ever has lost a vote by attacking the dastardly, albeit mythical, liberal media, by name or otherwise.

The Romney campaign is smart enough to understand that voters in the macho party adore confrontation (and by invoking Reagan, a twofer is achieved). By the time the next debate concludes, we'll know whether they were sufficiently courageous enough to take the gamble, minimal though it is.

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