Romney: Not Cynical Enough?

Written by Noah Kristula-Green on Thursday April 14, 2011

Romney may be notorious for changing his stance on issues, yet lately he seems too eager to say what he believes rather than what will win political points.

Is Mitt Romney's biggest problem that he’s just not cynical enough? It seems like a ridiculous conclusion since the man is notorious for changing his positions on issues (such as abortion). Yet when you compare the answers Romney is giving to the media in comparison to the other leading Republican with an exploratory committee, Tim Pawlenty, Romney seems to be too eager to say what he believes to be true rather than what he should say to win points with the conservative base.

Recently, both Pawlenty and Romney were interviewed by Larry Kudlow on CNBC. He asked them both similar questions. The differences in their responses help show how Romney isn’t being nearly as cynical as he could be.

Here is Pawlenty's interview.

Here is Romney's interview.

How did each candidate respond to the topics raised? (Kudlow did not ask both candidates the exact same questions, so this post will focus on answers that dealt with similar lines of questioning.)

1. Low Taxes and a Flat Tax: Kudlow loves lower and flat taxes, but do the candidates love them at much as Kudlow?

Pawlenty: "Whether it's corporate rates, whether it’s individual rates, whether it's dividends, whether its capital gains, whether it’s the death tax, whether it’s capital equipment and I'm down the list, we need to take all of those rates and reduce them as far as we can. We need to simplify the tax code, make it pro-growth, make it more transparent, and make it more friendly for investment and deployment of capital. We need to go back to a Gramm-Rudman style approach like Reagan did."

Note that Pawlenty even managed to get a line in praising Reagan. And on Flat Taxes:

Pawlenty: "Of course I support a flatter tax rate. I don't know if we can get there in one leap, but there in a flatter direction absolutely."

This is all very non-objectionable and makes Kudlow happy.

When Romney was asked about this, Romney also said he wants low taxes. He even wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent.

But that’s not all he said:

Romney: "I'd love to see much flatter tax rates, but one thing I can also say is that I am not looking for a way to take the top 1% of earners and have them pay a smaller share of the total burden."

He doesn't come out and say it, but Romney is coming out against the regressive taxation that a flat tax would bring by its design. Romney is implicitly in favor of some sort of progressive tax scheme, or is at least opposed to regressive taxation.

2. The dollar isn’t strong and Kudlow is not a fan of Bernanke, the Fed, or quantitative easing. Do the candidates share his concern?

Pawlenty: "We need a strong dollar" "The Federal Reserve has to stop what it’s doing."

FrumForum’s already discussed the problems with Pawlenty's anti-Fed stance. This wasn’t the interview where he criticized the Fed for printing "fiat money" but he has joined with Kudlow on the anti-Fed bandwagon.

Romney however didn’t share the talking points:

Romney: "I think Ben Bernanke is a student of monetary policy. He's doing as good a job as he thinks he can do at the Federal Reserve. But look, I'm not going to spend my time going after Ben Bernanke."

Romney seems to have not gotten the anti-QE2 memo. It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes before he joins with the current anti-Fed sentiment in the GOP.

3. Regulation: Kudlow doesn't like regulation, or Obamacare.

Pawlenty: "We have unbelievable delays, costs and burdens visited [on] the private economy because of regulation. They need to be reduced, cut and eliminated."

This comparison is a little harder to do since Kudlow saves the real hard questions on this topic for Romney when discussing Romneycare in Massachusetts.

Romney argues with a federalist defense: he had a solution for Massachusetts, he thinks Obamacare is unconstitutional, and he would repeal Obamacare if elected.

So far so good, but when Romney is describing his Obamacare repeal plan, he adds this odd sentence at the end:

"[you need] to have legislation in to make sure that people with preexisting conditions are not refused the ability to get insurance and that people have access to coverage."

Romney’s not an idiot. He knows that if you pass a law that ensures people with preexisting coverage are not refused health insurance, then the incentive is to wait until you develop a preexisting coverage before getting your insurance. This is very problematic and it’s the problem the individual mandate is meant to solve. Either Romney was hoping Kudlow wouldn't catch him on this (which he didn't) or Romney has a new plan to provide insurance to people with pre-existing conditions without the use of a mandate.

It’ll be interesting to see how long Romney can keep talking about the issues while still avoiding the temptation to be as cynical and as willing to jump on conservative red meat as some of his opponents. It’s also worth asking whether this is the right strategy for Romney to pursue when he hasn’t yet secured the Republican nomination and still has many conservative primaries to win.

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