A Bad Fight for Mitt Romney

112707 rubin web A Bad Fight for Mitt RomneyIt’s getting increasingly hard for Mitt Romney to stick to the script about his record.

As he traveled through chilly New Hampshire on his post-Thanksgiving campaign tour, he found himself in a toe-to-toe fight with Rudy Giuliani about their respective records.

This is particularly dangerous territory for the Romney campaign.

In broad strokes, Mr. Romney should be happy to tout his executive experience – which he contends Hillary Clinton and many of his opponents sorely lack – as a business executive, Olympics chairman and Governor. But the details of his Massachusetts record are problematic, especially in New Hampshire, where many voters are Massachusetts transplants or live within the Boston media market. Indeed, the more specific the arguments get, the worse they are for Mr. Romney.

The problems start with his immigration stance. Having dropped his once-favorable outlook on comprehensive immigration reform, Mr. Romney has attempted to bolster his image by boasting about a program in which Massachusetts state troopers were deputized to work with I.N.S. agents. But during his recent back-and-forth with Mr. Giuliani—the Romney campaign criticized him for allowing illegal immigrants in New York City to report crimes, which they said made it a sanctuary city—the details proved more problematic for Mr. Romney. The Annenberg Center’s factcheck.org confirmed that Mr. Romney’s plan was a last-minute gambit that never went into effect and that he had a handful of his own sanctuary cities. The result: his latest immigration ad mentions neither issue.

Likewise he has been challenged on his economic record. Mr. Romney contends he “never raised” taxes and balanced the budget despite a liberal legislature. However, that provided an opportunity for the Giuliani campaign to talk about Mr. Romney’s “C” rating from the CATO institute, his failure to deliver on his promised reduction of state income taxes and his efforts to raise revenue by “closing loopholes” in the tax code.

Most troublesome for Mr. Romney is his record on healthcare. Mr. Romney trumpeted his record of achieving near universal healthcare with “no taxes.” Mr. Giuliani and other Republican rivals responded by pointing out that the “no tax” plan sounded quite a bit like Hillary Clinton’s health care plan and included fines on businesses and individuals who did not comply with the mandate to buy insurance. Meanwhile, Fred Thompson and other pro-life rivals were more than happy to highlight another feature of Mr. Romney’s healthcare plan: subsidized abortion services.

And this weekend, Mr. Giuliani seized on a Romney-appointed judge’s decision to release a convicted murder (who proceeded to kill a newlywed couple) as an opportunity to label his rival as weak on crime. Mr. Giuliani produced FBI crime statistics to argue that murders went up over 7 percent during Mr. Romney’s tenure. Mr. Romney shot back that crime rates overall decreased (by over 8 percent). But still, comparing crime-reduction records with Rudy Giuliani is surely an activity the Romney campaign will want to move on from as quickly as possible.

Little by little, the attacks by Mr. Romney’s opponents are eating away at his painstakingly constructed conservative persona. The question is whether, by the time the Iowa caucuses roll around, there’s going to be anything left.