In his first comments since the presidential debate, President Obama told a campaign rally in Denver, Colo., that the rival he faced on stage the previous night was "not the real Mitt Romney." Like many, the president is clearly unconvinced by the host of moderate positions that Romney adopted during the debate — many at odd with his past declarations. As Ezra Klein at The Washington Post explains:
During the first presidential debate, Romney presented himself as a candidate uninterested in tax cuts, in love with Medicare, in support of economic regulations, confident in the government’s role in the health-care system, and interested in few spending cuts beyond PBS. Romney’s policies might be steeped in tea, but last night, he proved his political skills were honed in Massachusetts.
So how did Romney — who has pledged to overturn ObamaCare, replace Medicare with a voucher system, water down financial regulations, and enact tax cuts for the wealthy — sell himself as moderate?
As usual, it depends which side you ask. Take Obama's assertion that Romney has promised to pass a $5 trillion tax cut for the rich, which Romney flatly claimed was not true. Conservatives say that Obama's claim is false, and that Romney's position on taxes has always been in the center. The mainstream media has "mouthed the president's false talking points… egging the president on," says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. "When Mitt Romney debunked these easily, Obama had nowhere to go."
However, it is true that Romney's cuts would cost $5 trillion — Romney has pledged to pay for it by ending unspecified tax deductions and closing unspecified loopholes. "The Tax Policy Center has analyzed that promise and found that it is mathematically impossible," says Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic, "unless Romney raises taxes on the middle class or lets his tax plan increase the deficit — neither of which Romney has said he's willing to do."
In other words, Romney became a moderate by being a bit slippery about the truth — or as some would say, lying. "Romney won the debate in no small part because he adopted a policy of simply lying about his policies," says Jonathan Chait at New York. "Probably the best way to understand Obama's listless performance is that he was prepared to debate the claims Romney has been making for the entire campaign, and Romney switched up and started making different and utterly bogus ones."
So if Romney wins the election, will the conservative or the moderate show up in the Oval Office? That's the $64,000 question. "If Romney is facing a Democratic Congress that demands compromise in return for votes — the same situation he faced in Massachusetts — he'll be more like the Massachusetts moderate he presented as last night," says Klein. "If he's facing a Republican Congress that's pulling him to the right…he'll be more like the candidate we saw in this year's primaries and throughout much of this campaign."