It’s no secret that Mitt Romney has embraced being a political chameleon by changing positions from the primaries debates on key issues.
President Obama has slammed him for a nebulous tax policy, but with little apparent impact as the Nov. 6 election draws closer and both candidates are even in national polls. In some instances, the former Massachusetts governor had to walk back comments—such as his claim that 47 percent of the country are takers who see themselves as victims—that he says were either taken out of context or expressed inelegantly.
The Fiscal Times examined how Romney has cast himself on five key issues, as part of a broader assessment that will include an analysis later this week of Obama’s unfulfilled promises. The transformations and subtle tweaks to Romney’s positions can be interpreted as evidence of a nuanced and flexible mind or, cynically, as pandering to different interest groups. But either way, even if you sometimes struggle to know just where Romney stands … you can at least see how he moves.
Romney stresses that he’s pro-life and will support those policies, but his past statements have blurred the degree of his commitment. The conventional wisdom holds that to win the election he must appease his more conservative supporters, while not alienating women voters whose backing could prove decisive.
Then: "I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose," Romney said during a 2002 gubernatorial debate. "I am not going to change our pro-choice laws in Massachusetts in any way. I am not going to make any changes which would make it more difficult for a woman to make that choice herself.
Later: When asked at a 2007 GOP primary presidential debate about signing a law to ban all abortions, Romney said, "I would welcome a circumstance where there was such a consensus in this country that we said, ‘We don't want to have abortion in this country at all, period. That would be wonderful. I'd be delighted.’"
Even Later: "I am pro-life and believe that abortion should be limited to only instances of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother,” he wrote in National Review last year. “I support the reversal of Roe vs. Wade, because it is bad law and bad medicine."
Still Later: "There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda," he told the Des Moines Register editorial board on Oct. 9, 2012.
Now: "The actions I’ll take immediately is to remove funding for Planned Parenthood. It will not be part of my budget,” Romney told reporters the day after his Oct. 9 comment. “And also I’ve indicated that I will reverse the Mexico City position of the president. I will reinstate the Mexico City policy which keeps us from using foreign aid for abortions overseas."
A government program to aid the millions of underwater homeowners carries the stigma of a bailout, even if refinancing mortgages or forgiving principal on home loans helped economic growth.
Romney initially favored letting the market—broken and leaning heavily on the government conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—run its course. His thinking has since evolved.
Then: "Don't try to stop the foreclosure process," Romney told the Las Vegas Review Journal last October. "Let it run its course and hit the bottom."
Now: Romney backs the government selling off 200,000 foreclosed homes that it owns and providing current homeowners with “foreclosure alternatives,” but his website doesn’t spell out what those alternatives would be. “Now, there are also some things we have to do to make housing work right here in Nevada,” Romney said at a Sept. 21 rally in Las Vegas. “We have to reignite the housing economy here so that home values start going up again.”
In a bid to get support from voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania and southwestern Pennsylvania, Obama and Romney have portrayed themselves as friends of coal. But both candidates have a rocky relationship with the fossil fuel.
For Obama, it’s the contradiction of new EPA regulations on coal-fired power plants with proud claims that coal industry employment has improved under his watch. But for Romney, it’s the inconsistency of a Massachusetts governor who claimed that a coal plant “kills” and a presidential candidate who hails the mines as sources of jobs.
Then: When the coal-burning Salem Harbor Power Station tried to delay its time for complying with Massachusetts emissions laws, a then-Gov. Romney stood outside the plant on Feb. 6, 2003 and said: "I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that plant -- that plant kills people."
Now: Romney visited Beallsville, Ohio on Aug. 14, 2012—surrounded by coal miners—and declared, “We’ve 250 years left of coal. Why in the world wouldn’t we use it?” according to The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.
“We’re going to take advantage of our energy resources to save your jobs, create more jobs, and, by the way, when we use our plentiful energy resources, our inexpensive carbon-based resources, you’re going to see manufacturing come back to America,” he said.
As college tuitions surge, the amount of outstanding student loan debt has climbed past $1 trillion. Adding to the trouble was that interest rates were set to double on federally subsidized student loans, an increase that was averted by a compromise among Obama, House Republicans and Senate Democrats.
And within about a month, Romney went from telling current and prospective university students not to expect more government help on college to endorsing the $6 billion deal to keep Stafford loan interest rates at 3.4 percent for another year. He positioned his switch as a response to unemployment among recent college grads, even though the measure applied to students this academic year. Romney has since returned to promises that he would limit the government’s role in student lending.
The Republican nominee wants to re-introduce private firms into the federal student loan market, claiming the companies would lower default rates that are largely driven by unchecked debt loans and high unemployment.
Then: “It would be popular for me to stand up and say I’m going to give you government money to pay for your college, but I’m not going to promise that,” Romney said at a March 5, 2012 town hall in Youngstown, Ohio. “Don’t just go to one that has the highest price. Go to one that has a little lower price where you can get a good education. And hopefully you’ll find that. And don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on.”
Later: “I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans,” Romney said at an April 23, 2012 news conference. “There was some concern that that would expire halfway through the year, and I support extending the temporary relief on interest rates for students as a result of student loans, obviously, in part because of the extraordinarily poor conditions in the job market.”
Now: By August, Romney was back to saying the government would not provide debt relief. “Now I know it is very tempting as a politician to go out and say, you know what, I’ll just give you some money,” he said Aug. 20, 2012 in Manchester, NH. “The government’s just going to give you some money and pay back your loans for you. I’m not going to tell you something that’s not the truth.
The most prominent recent piece of legislation on legal residency was the DREAM Act. It would grant permanent residency to the children of illegal immigrants who either serve in the military or pursue higher education. The bill failed to clear the 60-vote threshold for a Senate vote in 2010.
Romney has endorsed the somewhat murky policy of “self-deportation” and pledged an overhaul to streamline the immigration process, but he initially pledged to veto the DREAM Act. It’s an obstacle as he tries to bolster his support among Latinos. Then: “If I were elected and Congress were to pass the DREAM Act, would I veto it?” he said on Dec. 31, 2011 in Le Mars, Iowa. “And the answer is yes. I’m delighted with the idea that people who come to this country and wish to serve in the military can be given a path to become permanent residents in this country. Those who serve in our military and fulfill those requirements, I respect and acknowledge that path. For those that come here illegally, the idea of giving them in-state tuition credits or other special benefits I find to be the contrary to the idea of a nation of law. If I’m the president of the United States I want to end illegal immigration so that we can protect legal immigration.”
Romney tempered that stance at the Oct. 16 presidential debate, saying that military service was only a “for instance” of how those children could obtain residency—implying but not stating that other avenues were possible.
Now: “The kids of those that came here illegally, those kids, I think, should have a pathway to become a permanent resident of the United States and military service, for instance, is one way they would have that kind of pathway to become a permanent resident.”