Slick Willard: Romney Shuffles Through Des Moines Debate

Mitt Romney is proving true the old adage about public speaking—that what you say matters less than how you say it.

The former Massachusetts Governor was at it again on the morning of Sunday, Aug. 5, when, hours after a new Washington Post poll confirmed his front-running position in Iowa, the nine Republican presidential candidates met for a nationally-televised forum in Des Moines—their final gathering before next Saturday’s straw poll in Ames, which Mr. Romney is expected to win with ease.

To his foes on the right, Mr. Romney’s growing strength in lead-off Iowa, where the G.O.P. caucus—going electorate is dominated by religious conservatives, has been maddening, given that his public commitment to socially conservative causes dates back (conveniently) to about 2005, when he switched his political focus from liberal Massachusetts to the national Republican stage.

But an exchange this morning featuring Mr. Romney and Sam Brownback, the ardently anti-abortion Kansas Senator who is still trying to break five percent in polls while Mr. Romney approaches 30, demonstrated why Mr. Romney, with his fresh face, million dollar incisors and generally unflappable demeanor, has enjoyed such success in selling the right on the depth of his commitment to their cause.

George Stephanopoulos, who moderated the debate for ABC News (which aired it nationally in a 9:00 A.M. time slot that probably conflicted with many caucus voters’ church-going habits), raised a “robo-call” that Mr. Brownback’s campaign has been using in Iowa, which states the following:

As late as 2005, Mitt Romney pledged to support and uphold pro-abortion policies and passed taxpayer funding of abortions in Massachusetts. His wife Ann has contributed money to Planned Parenthood. Mitt told the National Abortion Rights Action League that “you need someone like me in Washington.”

Mr. Brownback took the opportunity to affirm his own “pro-life” and “whole life” ideology, and then Mr. Romney was asked for his response to the phone call.

“Virtually nothing in that ad is true,” he asserted. “The single word that I would use is ‘desperate,’ or perhaps ‘negative.’”

Mr. Stephanopoulos then interjected to ask what specifically was inaccurate in the call, and Mr. Romney didn’t so much as stammer as he plowed into his usual talking points.

“I am pro-life—that’s the truth,” he said. “And several years ago when we faced the issue of cloning of embryos in our state, I wrote an op-ed piece in the Boston Globe and said I’m pro-life. And every action I’ve taken as Governor of Massachusetts has been pro-life. This is a very difficult decision. We’re involved in the lives of two people—a mom and an unborn child. And yet I’ve come down on the side of saying I’m in favor of life.”

Again, Mr. Stephanopoulos cut in to inquire how specifically the robo-call had been inaccurate.

“The Massachusetts Citizens for Life,” Mr. Romney replied, “just several months ago, brought me in and gave me an award for my public leadership on the basis of being pro-life.”

Then, for good measure, he added: “The best way you can learn about someone is not by asking their opponent, but ask them, ‘What do you believe and what’s your view?’ And I am pro-life and virtually every part of that ad is inaccurate.”

And with that, Mitt got away with having it both ways. There are enough holes and inconsistencies in the pro-life conversion story he peddles to insult the intelligence of every honest social conservative in America—and yet he is able to cover these gaping holes with the magnetic power of his personal presentation.

For the record, Mitt did not point to a single flaw in the Brownback phone call, just as his soliloquy ignored some vital contextual information that would expose the blatantly political machinations in Mitt’s two decades of twisting an turning on abortion (among other issues).

Mr. Romney did not mention, for instance, that in previously seeking office in Massachusetts, he looked hundreds of thousands of voters in the eye – on live, statewide television—and told them that he had lost a family member to an illegal, pre-Roe abortion, and that he had sworn from that point on that abortion was no business of any government. Nor did he say on Sunday, as he happily did in Massachusetts, that his own mother was his political hero – for supporting abortion rights when she ran for office in Michigan in the years before Roe.

Mr. Romney convinced the Bay State’s socially liberal electorate that he was pro-choice through the power of his personality—with heart-wrenching anecdotes and his earnest, camera-friendly manner. Now, with this presidential hopes in the hands of social conservatives, he uses the same techniques to gloss over his pro-choice past and to sell a new heart-wrenching narrative: his “conversion” story.

Slick Willard: Romney Shuffles Through Des Moines Debate