Romney’s Mondale moment
Dave Weigel has a nice catch today, comparing Mitt Romney’s framing of entitlement cuts to Walter Mondale’s framing of tax increases back in 1984. Here’s Romney yesterday at the Americans for Prosperity summit:
My dad used to say that “the pursuit of the difficult makes men strong.” Our next president is going to face difficult choices. Among these will be the future of Social Security and Medicare. In their current form, these programs will go bankrupt. I know that, you know that, and even our friends in the other party know that. The difference is that I will be honest about strengthening and preserving them, and they won’t.
Now compare that to Mondale at the 1984 Democratic National Convention:
Let’s tell the truth. It must be done, it must be done. Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won’t tell you. I just did.
Weigel is, for some reason, impressed with Romney’s speech, calling it “Mondaleism done right” and “Romney’s bid to become the credible entitlement reformer who won’t waste a Republican mandate in 2012.” But Weigel acknowledges that Romney’s proposal on Medicare is similar to the Paul Ryan plan, and that Romney actually goes further than Ryan by raising the Social Security retirement age and introducing means testing. The Ryan plan was, of course, an enormous blunder for the Republican Party. I can’t tell if Weigel is buying into the media perception of Paul Ryan as a brave truth teller – as opposed to the pusher of a flawed fraud of a plan – but regardless, it should be obvious that the Ryan plan is deeply unpopular with voters of both parties.
Romney’s speech wasn’t “Mondaleism done right.” It was the presentation of a very unpopular idea – entitlement cuts. Mondale’s speech didn’t backfire on him because he did it wrong. It backfired because voters were resistant to tax increases, and because it reflected long-standing concerns about the Democratic Party as tax-friendly. Ryan’s budget plan didn’t backfire on the Republican Party because he did it wrong. It backfired because people hated it. People do not like it when you propose taking their money away in the form of taxes, and people don’t like it when you propose taking their benefits away in the form of raising the retirement age, means testing, and altering Medicare. The difference between Mondale and Romney? When Mondale promised that he was telling the truth about raising taxes, it was easy to believe him. When Romney promises he is telling the truth about “strengthening and preserving” Medicare and Social Security, it isn’t.