During the Republican primary Mitt Romney pitched himself to a skeptical GOP base as a “severely conservative” candidate, a sale he tried to close by selecting Paul Ryan as his running mate. But in his closing pitch to the general electorate, he promises to be a starkly different president than the one he presented to Republican voters.
In reconfiguring his image to soften his hard-edged positions from the primary, Romney’s shifts have mostly involved subtle tweaks to his policy platform that complement his vastly changed rhetoric, aimed at selling himself as a peace-loving moderate who will unite the country.
Here are five changed stances that reflect Romney’s evolution.
1) I Won’t Cut Taxes For The Rich
While battling conservatives for his party’s nomination, Romney unveiled a tax reform proposal built around lowering individual rates across the board by 20 percent. It would mean a tax cut for every American, he declared.
“We’re going to cut taxes on everyone across the country by 20 percent, including the top 1 percent,” Romney said during a GOP primary debate in February.
But in the general election, painted by President Obama as a candidate mainly interested in serving the wealthy, he introduced a new component: the rich won’t actually get a tax cut because he’d close deductions and loopholes for high incomes.
“I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans,” Romney said during the first debate with Obama, in Denver. In a subsequent debate, he said, “I’m not looking to cut taxes for wealthy people. I am looking to cut taxes for middle-income people.”
2) ‘Regulation Is Essential’
Central to Romney’s pitch to Republican primary voters was that he would unshackle businesses from “crippling” over-regulation by the Obama administration.
The Dodd-Frank financial reform law, he said back in February, is “paralyzing lending to entrepreneurs, killing small banks, crippling small businesses, driving down the value of housing and creating corrupting Washington controls over the biggest banks.”
This month, while debating Obama, he talked up the need for government regulations.
“Regulation is essential,” he said. “You can’t have a free market work if you don’t have regulation. You couldn’t have people opening up banks in their garage and giving loans. … There’s some parts of Dodd-Frank that make all the sense in the world.”
3) Romneycare Shows My ‘Empathy And Care’
Facing criticism from conservatives during primary season for enacting a law in Massachusetts that became the model for Obamacare, Romney worked to distance himself from Romneycare.
“It’s not even perfect for Massachusetts,” he told the Washington Examiner’s Byron York last December. “At the time we created it, I vetoed several measures and said these, I think, are mistakes, and you in Massachusetts will find you have to correct them over time. … But they have not made those changes, and in some cases they made things worse. So I wouldn’t encourage any state to adopt it in total.”
But last month, seeking to soften his image in the wake of his unearthed taped remarks deriding 47 percent of Americans, Romney spoke fondly of his signature legislative achievement during an interview with NBC News.
“Don’t forget — I got everybody in my state insured,” he said. “One hundred percent of the kids in our state had health insurance. I don’t think there’s anything that shows more empathy and care about the people of this country than that kind of record.”
4) I’ll Uphold Obama’s Relief For Illegal Immigrants
In January, Romney called for “self-deportation” for illegal immigrants, including those brought by their parents as children, which involves making life so difficult they choose to leave.
“The answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here, because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here,” he said.
Fast-forward to the general election. Facing a huge deficit among Hispanics, who support immigration relief, Romney no longer rails against “amnesty.” And he promises not to rescind work permits that Obama plans to provide DREAM-eligible migrants via executive order.
“The people who have received the special visa that the president has put in place, which is a two-year visa, should expect that the visa would continue to be valid,” he told the Denver Post early this month. He also sought to put a lighter touch on his “self-deportation” remarks.
“Self-deportation says let people make their own choice. What I was saying is, we’re not going to round up 12 million people, undocumented illegals, and take them out of the nation,” Romney said while debating Obama. “Instead let people make their own choice. … I’m not in favor of rounding up people and taking them out of this country.”
5) Give Peace A Chance
Primary-era Romney fumed against Obama’s “extraordinarily weak and timid” foreign policy.
“This is a president … he says pretty please? A foreign policy based on pretty please? You’ve got to be kidding,” he said during a GOP debate late last year, accusing Obama of trying to “appease or accommodate the tyrants of the world.” He also promised to be more aggressive against Iran’s nuclear ambitions: “If we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon,” he said. “If you elect me as president, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.”
But facing down the president in a debate about foreign policy last week, that tough-talking rhetoric dissipated entirely and Romney sounded more like a liberal peacenik.
“We want a peaceful planet,” he said. “We want people to be able to enjoy their lives and know they’re going to have a bright and prosperous future and not be at war. That’s our purpose… We don’t want another Iraq. We don’t want another Afghanistan. That’s not the right course for us.”
Instead of promising to get tougher on Iran, he criticized Obama for not supporting the opposition protesters against the country’s government more strongly.
The Republican nominee said America must stand up for “principles [that] include human rights, human dignity, free enterprise, freedom of expression, elections. Because when there are elections, people tend to vote for peace. They don’t vote for war.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.