Tonight’s policy-heavy debate showcased a new Romney – or perhaps more accurately, the old-old Romney – the Romney that predates the Republican primary race where he called himself “
fiercely severely conservative” and the candidates boiled policy critiques down to accusations of “Socialism.”
The Romney who appeared at the debate was more like the person who was governor of Masschusetts for four years and was known as a moderate, data-driven technocrat – not an ideologue of any stripe.
Even though the Romney campaign, in an unfortunate sound bite by his campaign aide, suggested that he would toggle to the political center, we hadn’t seen his “Etch-a-Sketch” moment until now. We had seen a variety of caricatures of Romney or unappealing sides of him – the outsourcer, the greedy businessman, the stiff and wooden campaigner, the disdainful critic of the “victim” class.
And over the course of the summer, Romney’s image as a successful Mr. Fix It who had turned around failing companies and troubled Olympic Games had eroded thanks to a succession of gaffes. His inability to move the polls began to give him a whiff of loser-dom.
At the debate we saw the Romney who defends Wall Street regulation, while giving a detailed critique of the Dodd-Frank Act which he pledged to not only repeal, but replace. This Romney promised to keep various aspects of Obama’s health care reform, even though he wants to repeal the bill. He talked a lot about his record of working with a Democratic legislature in Massachusetts.
And he regained some of that aura of competence with his command of policy details and a high-energy performance that contrasted with the strangely subdued president. (Romney also benefitted from Obama’s failure to raise the “47 percent” comment in the debate.)
Romney addressed one of the biggest vulnerabilities in his campaign pitch – that his plan to cut taxes, raise defense spending and still balance the budget doesn’t add up. He said he would cut tax rates for the wealthy – but would not cut their overall taxes because he would close loopholes and deductions. Obama shot back that there are not enough loopholes to close the gap. Romney said he would balance the budget by stimulating job creation that would lead to high incomes and tax revenues. Even from the new-old-old Romney, that’s still a leap of faith.