I’ve always had a soft spot for Mitt Romney, who strikes me, in a way I can’t completely define, as a good guy. The fact that he is an audacious liar does not strike me as a definitive judgment on his character, but primarily a reflection of the circumstances he finds himself in – having to transition from winning a majority of a fairly liberal electorate to winning a majority of a rabidly conservative one, one that cannot be placated without indulging in all sorts of fantasies.
So I do understand David Frum’s sympathy for Romney. What I don’t quite get is Frum’s claim that Romney is not an audacious liar. He made this claim in a joint interview we gave on Canadian television, and again the other day in the Daily Beast:
Mitt Romney cares a great deal about speaking accurately and truthfully. He uses statistics carefully in his speeches and debates, unlike former leading rival Rick Perry.
He eschews the audacious somersaulting of reality we often hear from current rival Newt Gingrich …
So long as we are in the world of facts and specifics, Romney has shown himself scrupulous not to overstate or misrepresent. Even where he has changed his mind, on abortion for example, you’ll see no equivalent of the glaring disregard for the factual record of a Ron Paul
Really? It seems to me that Romney makes factual, specific claims that are false all the time. Some of them are minor, daily stories, such as his denials, when convenient, that he knows anything about the ads he is running against Newt Gingrich. Others are obvious attempts to mislead the public about his own history:
When first asked as a 1994 US Senate candidate about records showing him voting in the 1992 Democratic primary, Romney said he couldn’t recall for whom he voted.
Then Romney told the Globe he voted for Tsongas because he preferred his ideas to his then-opponent for the nomination, Bill Clinton. Later, he added that it was proof he was not a partisan politician.
Yet in 2007, while making his first run for president, Romney offered a new explanation: He said he voted for Tsongas as a tactical maneuver, aiming to present the “weakest opponent” possible for Bush.
Or important components of the claims that undergird his policy arguments:
At last night’s debate, for instance, Romney claimed that Obama “went before the United Nations” and “said nothing about thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip.”
These are just a couple of examples plucked from the last day of campaigning. There is an endless supply, large and small. Romney’s whole line of attack against Obama rests upon facts that are verifiably false. His main foreign policy indictment is a lie that Obama went around the world apologizing for the United States – this is the basis for his slogan that he “believes in America,” as well as the title of his campaign book, No Apology. His domestic indictment of Obama rests upon his ludicrous claims that Obama “has no jobs plan” and his repeated, specific assertion that Obama wants to create full equality of outcome.
Even by the standards of politicians, Romney seems unusually prone to dishonesty. Again, you can ascribe this to circumstance rather than character. I see him as a patrician pol, like George H.W. Bush, who believes deeply in public service but regards elections as a cynical process of pandering to rubes. I think you can plausibly make other interpretations, and you can separate Romney the man or even Romney the president from Romney the candidate. But I don’t see how you can paint Romney the candidate as in any way scrupulous about the truth in any form.