GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s smashing victory in last week’s first presidential debate was a stunner for the chattering class, many of whom had looked ready to award the election to President Obama.
But there were plenty of hints from Team Romney that this would be their go-for-broke moment.
First, there was senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom’s Etch a Sketch comment way back in March.
And yet, from that time on we hadn’t seen the candidate “pivot” to the center—not once he secured the nomination, not in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. Even in September, Romney seemed obsessed with securing a conservative GOP base that still distrusted him.
Then we heard all the talk about Romney’s preparation for the debates—deep and meticulous, the way he did business at Bain Capital. Unlike the president, whose debate prep was scattered, Romney put in day after day starting way back in August, including role playing, simulations, what have you, “often at the expense of campaigning,” the AP reported.
He put more emphasis on the debate than on his lackluster GOP acceptance speech, which he threw together with his Svengali-like adviser, Stuart Stevens.
So, it appears as if Team Romney was gambling everything on the debates, and it seems to have paid off.
Sixty-seven million people watched part of the first debate, three times as many as saw Romney’s acceptance speech.
The polls showed Romney scored a lopsided debate victory. And he may have s gotten a nice bump and turned his struggling campaign around, while putting the president on the defensive. Romney did that in part by making some of the biggest flip flops in a long, distinguished career of flip floppery.
As the president pointed out, he basically abandoned the tax plan that’s been the centerpiece of his campaign. Romney disputed the $5 trillion the president said those tax cuts would cost, but running mate Paul Ryan had basically accepted that figure in a tough interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News the previous Sunday.
Yet now, in a stunning reversal, Romney declared he would “’absolutely not’ support a plan that cuts taxes on the wealthy, raises taxes on the middle class, or adds to the federal budget deficit.”
And weren’t tax cuts the engine that were supposed to create 12 million new jobs? I don’t believe they work anymore, but now there’s not even internal consistency in the Romney plan.
Still, the vast majority of the 67 million viewers who tuned in don’t know any of this, and to them Romney must have sounded like a smart, moderate guy, which he very well may be, depending on the day.
Romney and his advisers picked the perfect time to “reintroduce” him, throwing supply siders and the Republican base under the bus and setting the president back on his heels. But they succeeded, which may only reinforce the idea that their candidate can–and should—say anything that will help him get elected.
Also read: Does Obama Even Want Four More Years?