October 10, 2007

Romney Walks Back The Tax Feud

Mitt Romney marred an otherwise fine performance in yesterday's debate by attempting to pick fights with Rudy Giuliani over tax and spending policies in New York City and Massachussetts and the line-item veto. Rudy brushed off the attack and kept focused on Hillary. This morning, Romney tried walking back a bit on the feud on the Today show, in an interview with Matt Lauer:

ML: He says that as mayor of New York he lowered taxes, and he says as Governor of Massachussetts, you raised taxes. You say the opposite is true, that you lowered taxes, so only one of you can be right. How do you think that the average voter should sort this out?

MR: Well, I don't think the average voter is going to be able to go through the statistics, and frankly, both of us lowered taxes, both of us tried to rein in spending. But some things are very clear. One of them is that he opposed the line-item veto and took it all the way to the Supreme Court. I think that's a key thing for a President to be able to rein in spending. In Mayor Giuliani's case, he fought to keep in place a commuter tax which cost some $400 million for people who commute into New York City.

Without question, Romney had to retreat on his initial attack. The commuter tax may be better ground on which to spar, but it's pretty limited. The tax existed long before Rudy's tenure, and while it may be nice to eliminate all taxation, one has to remember that New York City was in the red when he got there. He couldn't very well eliminate all revenue streams. As Romney himself now acknowledges, Rudy cut other taxes and spending, so hanging his hat on the commuter tax seems pretty thin gruel at this point.

Romney did better in the interview when Lauer focused on Hillary Clinton, as he did in yesterday's debate when he did the same thing. He especially did a good job in swatting away the supposed Mormon question, which Lauer brought up from former Bush advisor Dan Bartlett's comments:

ML: This is coming from a former top advisor to the President. He said this about you: "I think the Mormon issue is a real problem in the South. It's a real problem in other parts of the country, but people aren't going to say it. People are not going to step out and say 'I have a problem with Romney because he's Mormon.' What they're going to say is, 'He's a flip-flopper.' It's going to be the answer they give." What's your response to the comments from Mr Bartlett ...?

MR: My experience is -- that's been an issue that's been raised from the very beginning, and it would have a lot more credibility had I not won the straw poll in Ames, Iowa and the straw poll in Memphis, Tennessee, coming in second after [non-candidate] Bill Frist, the hometown hero there.

It's laughable that NBC suddenly finds Dan Bartlett so credible on -- well, anything. After the media vilification of the White House political team for the past six-plus years, all of a sudden Bartlett is an Oracle on the Mormon question. Romney's performance in Iowa, where Mormons don't exactly abound, should have already discredited this tired meme. He got elected Governor in Massachussetts as a Mormon, a state not exactly enamored of Mormon positions on family and social issues. How does Bartlett explain that?

Romney did the smart thing in defusing a loser of an argument this morning. He should keep his head up and talk more about Massachussetts and less about New York City. If people want electability, Romney can make that argument better than most based on his track record. (via The Corner)

Addendum: One commenter in the debate thread felt that Romney didn't have a grasp on foreign policy. I'd encourage people to listen to my interview with Mitt to see how well-versed he actually is on foreign policy. People like Matt Lauer are too busy asking him about the Mormon question to get to these topics.


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Comments (12)

Posted by lexhamfox | October 10, 2007 9:23 AM

I thought the Bartlett comments on the Republican race were interesting. Certainly no Oracle as you said, but it was unusual to have someone so close to the current Administration speak so stridently about the Republican line up. I'm curious why you mention his comments on Mitt but didn't think the comments made about Thompson merited comment.

Posted by docjim505 | October 10, 2007 11:12 AM

Matt Lauer: This is coming from a former top advisor to the President. He said this about you: "I think the Mormon issue is a real problem in the South..."

I'm a Southerner, and I have to confess that I don't quite get this. The implication seems to be that we Southerners are all such religious bigots that we can't stand the idea of a candidate who isn't a hard-tack, Bible-thumping, fundamentalist, evangelical Baptist (or, I suppose, Methodist). No doubt there ARE Southerners who will decide how to cast their vote based on religion... but I'm sure that there are people from all over the country who will do the same. There are also quite a number of Southerners who will cast their votes based on policies and their informed, intelligent estimate of which candidate will do the best job in the White House.

This is why I expect the Hilldabeast to do poorly in the South: we can smell a phony, shrewish socialist-wolf-in-sheep's-clothing a mile away.

Posted by brooklyn - hnav | October 10, 2007 11:34 AM

i don't see much of a 'walk back'...

seems pretty much the same as what he said in the debate and prior.

maybe i am missing something?

i was mistaken about the attorney context in past tense, but was correct about Romney's implication that attorney's can be considered at times regarding legality, but that he never implied this would affect immediate action.

he has made it pretty clear, he understands the need for strong efforts in National Security.

but Captain, it is truly healthy to see candidates challenge each other, especially when one is a front runner.

Romney did it in a very polite manner, and if he can go on offense with Rudy, we know he is willing to do the same with Hillary.

to be fair, Rudy was mistaken suggesting Romney raised taxation in the debate.

the give and take with Fred, Rudy, Romney seemed very healthy and was welcome.

on that stage, with a few exceptions playing protectionist nonsense, we had a strong Conservative message of low taxation, free trade, and sincere National Security being broadcast.

it was a true positive.

one of Romney's aspects, he has the ability to be most upbeat and optimistic.

it is very valuable vs other candidates.

great to see the 'can do' mantra on the GOP stage.

i know you are very objective and think you are outstanding.

hoping you will give Romney a fresh look.

Posted by brooklyn - hnav | October 10, 2007 11:39 AM

ps: by the way, Mr. Mirengoff has an excellent post on the misunderstood take on the 'attorney' comment.

MATTHEWS: Governor Romney, that raises the question, if you were president of the United States, would you need to go to Congress to get authorization to take military action against Iran's nuclear facilities?

ROMNEY: You sit down with your attorneys and tell you want you have to do, but obviously the president of the United States has to do what's in the best interest of the United States to protect us against a potential threat. The president did that as he was planning on moving into Iraq and received the authorization of Congress...


if Fred won, i would gladly support him, but i feel Romney may be worthy of the nod as well.

a strong CEO background, an outsider of the Washington Beltway, an optimist with energy and youth, etc...

can we step back and take the 3 top Rudy - Romney - Fred with a healthy review?

best wishes...

Posted by Monkei | October 10, 2007 11:48 AM

The tax existed long before Rudy's tenure, and while it may be nice to eliminate all taxation, one has to remember that New York City was in the red when he got there

Wait a minute here ... are you saying that since they were in the "red" it was ok to NOT eliminate or raise taxes?

Surely you won't have a problem then if the Dems raise taxes or stop tax cuts to pay for our "red" now?

Posted by SouthernMormon | October 10, 2007 12:43 PM

As a Mormon from the south (though presently living in Utah for school... well, may as well admit it, I went and married a Utah girl, so odds are I'm stuck here for life), I'd like to respond to docjim505's comment:

Yes, you're right. A lot of southern folk will vote for the right reasons. But you may be a little too optimistic about some.

Children I encountered as early as elementary school had been shown anti-Mormon propaganda films. I remember a few kids in my class who came from various local churches - not small churches, mind you, but large local congregations - asking me truly bizzare questions about these films. Not to mention the various anti-Mormon seminars held by churches, the Southern Baptist Convention's decision a few years back to come to Salt Lake to convert the Mormons (funny thing is that I've met a few SBCers who converted to Mormonism after that), and so forth.

The anti-Mormon current in the south runs hard and it runs deep. That said, as a Mormon growing up in the south, I experienced no meaningful discrimination - I worked hard, got good grades, and got fair pay and recognition for what I did. Most disagreed, some vehemently, and there were plenty of arguments, but there was always respect.

I personally think the Mormon question for Romney is moot anyways. He lacks recognition, lacks a "warm" stage presence, and, yes, has flip-flopped on numerous issues important to conservatives. He'll do well in a few states, but I doubt he'll ride the wave. He lacks broad, national support - far too much of his money comes from himself and Utah, a small, insignificant state when it comes to presidential elections. The best he can hope for is a VP position, but even then what would that bring the candidate? The 5 electoral votes of Utah, a state that has been overwhelmingly Republican in the past several elections? That's not much to bring to the table.

Mitt's a nice guy, but it will probably be Giuliani.

Posted by quickjustice | October 10, 2007 12:54 PM

As I've said before, Mitt Romney is a good guy, and a smart guy. His attacks on Giuliani suggest that he's substantively thin on local politics outside Massachusetts.

As the newly elected mayor, Giuliani inherited a massive fiscal deficit from his Democrat predecessor. That was in addition to a crime wave that kept terrified New Yorkers locked in their rooms day and night, an exploding welfare system in which more and more adults were being added to the system at a rate that would bankrupt the city in short order, and a left-wing, racist faction within the NYC Democrat Party that intimidates moderate NYC Democrats to this day.

Rudy Giuliani was held hostage to the fiscal crisis for the early part of his term as mayor. His opposition to repeal of the commuter tax, as well as his endorsement of Democrat Mario Cuomo for governor and his cooperation with Bill Clinton, were based upon that fact alone.

Rudy Giuliani turned around the crisis in dramatic fashion. Mitt Romney ought not bad-mouth Giuliani's accomplishments. It makes Romney look smaller than he is.

I stand by my perception of Romney's weaknesses in national defense and foreign policy, Ed. There's only so far you can get with "Guns, Germs and Steel", Romney's bible on the subject. I nonetheless wish Romney well. As Hannitty would say, he's a great American.

Posted by docjim505 | October 10, 2007 1:23 PM


Thanks for providing that personal account of what you experienced. I'm very sorry that you encountered such hostility toward your religion. I suppose I've just been very lucky and not witnessed it for myself.

Posted by Tim W | October 10, 2007 2:42 PM

I really like Romney and think he'd be a great president but I think the Morman issue will ultimately sink him.

I was at a dinner in Connecticut last year and when his name came up, people at the table bascially said that they would never vote for a Morman and that its a cult, not a religion. The 3 people who were the most hostile about it were Catholic, moderate Republicans all from the northeast. I was shocked at the level of holstility toward Mormans and called them out on it, which led to a heated dinner discussion. I am not trying to imply that Catholics are anti Mormon, but these 3 sure were and were quite open about it. It led me to beleive that there will be alot more people out there who are hosile to Romney's religion.

It was that night when I decided that Romney would not win the nomination or the general election. I would like to think I am wrong on this but probably not.

Posted by Nathan K. | October 10, 2007 2:59 PM

What percentage of the US population votes in the republican primaries? I dont know, it must be in the single digits. In the western states Mormans make up well over 2% of the population. Maybe %6 in Arizona for example. So imagine if they were uber-motivated and made a large turnout to support Mitt. It could be a significant boost. The general election would be a different story, because it gets a higher turnout and would dilute those votes.

Posted by Jeff | October 10, 2007 6:40 PM

I don't see the walkback you refer to. In the debate, when he said "it's just the opposite" Romney was not saying that Rudy raised taxes, but that Rudy's statement that Mitt raised taxes was wrong since he too had lowered taxes.

Posted by Eric Classic | October 10, 2007 7:59 PM

I’m extremely offended when people raise Mitt’s religion as an issue. It’s disgusting to think that any TRUE American would ever feel that his religion should govern his right to be President. On the other hand, I freely admit that I would have a problem with an atheist. I’m a Catholic and I know that John Kennedy faced the same trouble. He got past it with his message, and so will Mitt if he develops the message and the delivery. It’s not there yet.

Mitt’s a very brilliant man with good opinions and I enjoy listening to him. If he were the Republican candidate, I would be pleased to give him my vote.

Rudy does better – that doesn’t form a criticism of Mitt.

Rudy has a super sharp wit, coupled with a certain je-ne-sais-quoi. A certain polished gritiness quality that is brought to the table only by a New Yorker (I’m a Floridian.) Or more accurately, by this New Yorker. I believe that Bush has been a great leader and a terrible politician. I know the word politician is a dirty word, but the fact is that the President has to be a great politician. A great salesperson. Bush is not. Hillary is not. Mitt, and Fred are 75%, but Rudy is the real deal. He can sell his ideas.

I’m on board Rudy – keep up the pro American talking points. Keep telling us to get our heads up and keep criticizing the pout that Democrats are trying to spread. Keep telling us how great America is – you’re right, and it sells. Tell us that we can solve our problems if we try and if we stop beating ourselves up over small and large mistakes. Tell us to look forward – not back.

You’ve found your message. Now find your VP.

I’m going to recommend Brownback (this place rocks!)

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