As most are undoubtedly aware, Mitt Romney challenged Rick Perry to a $10,000 bet in last night’s GOP debate in Iowa. Here’s the key exchange:
“Perry: I’m hearing you say all the right things. But I read your first book and it said in there that your mandate in Massachusetts, which should be the model for the country — I know it came out of the reprint of the book, but, you know, I’m just saying, you were for individual mandates, my friend.
Romney: You know what, you’ve raised that before, Rick, and you’re wrong.
Perry: It was true then, it’s true now
Romney: Rick, I’ll tell you what, 10,000 bucks, $10,000 bet.
Perry: I’m not in the betting business.”
Most of the media focus has been on the "multimillionaire Mitt is out of touch" with the average American angle: Only a Wall Streeter, not a Main Streeter, would cavalierly toss around $10,000 bets. I have a couple media examples of this line of thinking. First, from the Des Moines Register:
The loudest post-debate chatter rolling into this morning centered on whether Mitt Romney had committed a major gaffe in proposing a $10,000 bet to Rick Perry in the middle of Saturday night’s debate.
Critics of Romney’s move saw it as a signature moment that will alienate the multimillionaire businessman from average Americans.
Romney’s bet echoes the words of a Wall Street politician, said Robert Haus, Iowa co-chairman for Perry’s campaign.
In a piece at the LA Times James Oliphant suggests, correctly, that this latest Romneyism is nothing short of an early Christmas gift for Obama’s upcoming "us versus them" campaign should Romney be the nominee:
Romney, who likes to talk about his work creating jobs as a venture capitalist in the private sector, is estimated to be worth between $190 million and $250 million.
Should he go on to win the Republican nomination, the clip from Saturday’s debate may be replayed again and again in Democratic attack ads.
The reaction of former Obama White House aide Bill Burton to Romney’s bet was typical. Burton now runs a Democratic "super PAC."
"Not a lot of 99%’ers are out there making $10,000 bets," Burton wrote on Twitter.
And the Democratic National Committee quickly fired off a mass email titled: "What the Average American Family Can Buy With $10,000."
The class envy meme, to be sure, is all too real and there’s no doubt Team Obama couldn’t believe their good fortune when Romney uttered those words last night. How difficult will it be to combine last night’s casual $10,000 wager with this picture in a "gazillionaire Mitt is not one of us" advertising campaign? I’m guessing they cut at least one such ad before the sun came up this morning.
With the media primarily focused on the "Mitt’s out of touch" narrative, not much attention has been brought to bear on Mitt’s truthfulness: Who would have won the bet had it been agreed to? When Mitt said "you’ve raised that before, Rick, and you’re wrong", what, specifically, is Romney disputing? In reading the exchange between the two above, I can think of at least three possibilities. First, Romney’s making the claim that nothing was removed from the first edition of his book, and Perry is wrong about that. Second, Romney is contending that he was never for government-imposed individual mandates. Finally, the Mittster is averring that he never suggested RomneyCare could be applied outside of Massachusetts.
Let’s take a look at each of the possibilities, shall we.
To my knowledge, Romney has always dissembled when asked, specifically, if he had removed the line in question from his book. But one of his flacks, Eric Fehrnstrom admitted he did just that when pressed after an earlier debate in which Mitt attempted a particularly egregious bit of doublespeak that even ABC News wasn’t buying, and they demanded clarification:
After the debate Romney’s staffer Fehrnstrom went into greater detail to explain what Romney was trying to say during the debate. Fehrnstrom said that line was indeed removed because there was more information when the second version of the book came out. The line was originally written, according to Fehrnstrom, before Obamacare was on the books.
What the passage of ObamaCare has to do with Mitt’s inability to answer a simple yes or no question is unclear, but it is clear that the line was indeed removed from Romney’s book, and he knows it. Now to the second possibility: Was Romney for government-decreed individual health care mandates? Let’s hear from Mitt himself on that:
That would be a yes. Enough said. Finally, did Romney suggest in his book — or anywhere else — that RomneyCare could be applied to the rest of the country? First, let’s take a look at the eleven-word line the Mittster wants us to believe was never in his book. Except it was (emphasis mine):
We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country, and it can be done without letting government take over health care.
Admittedly, I’m not a linguist, but that seems pretty clear to me, and certainly buttresses Perry’s claim. Romney knows this all too well, of course. Otherwise, why would he have removed that line from his book? Perhaps Romney is basing his nonsense on the fact that the word "model" or "paradigm" wasn’t included in the book. But that’s classic Romney dissembling as the practical effect is identical. But I’ll play along: Has Romney ever explicitly suggested RomneyCare could be a "model" for the nation? Why yes, he has, via the Weekly Standard’s Jeffrey H. Anderson:
In fact, however, as Newsweek writes, “During a speech in Baltimore on Feb. 2, 2007, Romney outlined his ambitions for the Massachusetts plan. ‘I’m proud of what we’ve done,’ he said. ‘If Massachusetts succeeds in implementing it, then that will be a model for the nation.’”
At the very least, Romney has clearly viewed his efforts as a model for other states across the nation. On April 11, 2006, the day before he signed his health care legislation into law, he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed (called “Health Care for Everyone? We Found a Way”), “How much of our health-care plan applies to other states? A lot.”
In his book, No Apology, he wrote of Ted Kennedy (on page 174 in the hardback edition), “[T]o his credit he saw an opportunity to work in a bipartisan fashion to try an experiment that might become a model for other states.” Three pages later (on page 177), Romney wrote, “From now on, no one in Massachusetts has to worry about losing his or her health insurance if there is a job change or a loss in income; everyone is insured and pays only what he or she can afford….We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country….”
Ladies and gentleman of the jury, the evidence is in. Romney removed the line from the book, is for government health care mandates, and has suggested on multiple occasions that RomneyCare could be applied to the rest of the country. Had Perry taken Romney’s bet, he’d have won. Romney’s stunt last night was more than a mere gaffe. Video below:
Update: Ed Morrissey offers this succinct analysis of Romney’s stunt:
If Romney wanted to make himself look rich, arrogant, and clueless, he could hardly have done a better job. When was the last time someone challenged you to a ridiculous bet in order to intimidate you out of an argument? For me, I think it was junior-high school.