Jacob Heilbrunn

Mitt Romney Has Found His Voice

Mitt Romney is on a roll. The Fox News poll last night found that viewers believed that Romney was hands-down the winner of the debate. Poised and relaxed, Romney easily eluded Texas Gov. Rick Perry's attempts to lasso him. This time Romney's remarks about being a CEO rather than a professional politician found their mark.

In contrast to a week ago, when he complained about being a piñata, Perry professed to enjoying the experience of being bludgeoned by his fellow candidates. Michele Bachmann gave another lachrymose chiding to Gov. Perry for forcing those "little girls" in Texas to receive the HPV shot. Big government in action, she said. Bachmann also announced that you should be able to keep every dollar you earn, leaving in some doubt whether the federal government would be able to fund itself at all under a Bachmann administration, a Roussean ideal that hardly comports with conservatism, though it does have libertarian overtones. Romney also dinged Perry on Social Security again: “There’s a Rick Perry out there that is saying that almost, quote, it says, that the federal government shouldn’t be in the pension business. That it is unconstitutional. Unconstitutional and it should be returned to the states. You better find that Rick Perry and get him to stop saying that.”

It was Romney who was most impressive, partly with his feats of prestidigitation. Confronted by Perry, once again, about his dreaded Massachusetts health-care plan, which served as the model for President Obama's venture, Romney stoutly denied it all with a straight face. Instead, his effusion of words resembled a the foam spewing out of a fire extinguisher as he sought to douse Perry's contention. Of course Perry is right. Romney's plan was the precursor for Obama's plan. But Romney has to pretend it isn't so in order to win the nomination. That he can do this without skipping a beat is a sure sign that he's becoming a seasoned debater. To win the nomination you have to tell all kinds of fibs—just look at Obama, who claimed he would shut down Guantanamo and has blithely violated that as well as a passel of other campaign promises.

Speaking of Obama, it's hard not to wonder if any Republican candidate could defeat him. The economy looks to be heading into a new recession. Unemployment is stuck at over 9 percent. The stock market is listing. Now, after being pilloried by his base for failing to fight, Obama is being attacked by Sen. Ben Nelson, among others, for wanting to tax the rich. Bill Clinton says it's a mistake as well:

I personally don’t believe we ought to be raising taxes or cutting spending, either one, until we get this economy off the ground. This has been a dead flat economy.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, George Skelton points out that California has already instituted exceptionally high taxes on the wealthy and it's been a bust:

If President Obama really wants to see the "Buffett Rule" in action, he should look at California's tax system. The state has been plagued by it for years. The revenue stream is unstable and the state budget has been a deficit disaster.

Soaking the rich—relying heavily on them for income taxes—has resulted in a precarious revenue roller coaster ride. It's either boom or bust in Sacramento, depending on how the wealthy are faring in the stock market and their other investments.

In short, there is plenty of fodder for debate.