As Mitt Romney formally launches his presidential campaign in New Hampshire, supporters typically cite his successful business career and effective management of the Salt Lake City Olympics to create the overall impression that he’s a competent executive.
But Romney’s actual experience in public office was limited to one term as governor, and the results weren’t that impressive. His biggest legislative accomplishment as governor was signing the politically toxic health care law he’s now struggling to explain.
Romney often claims to have balanced the Massachusetts budget without raising taxes. The first part of that claim is true, but the second part is a matter of semantics.
While Romney didn’t raise general tax revenues, he raised various fees by $500 million and then proposed $140 million in business tax hikes by closing “loopholes.” His health care plan also increased spending, prompting tax increases after he left office to cover cost overruns.
This time around, by sticking by his health care law, Romney is attempting to avoid the “flip-flopper” label that dogged his last campaign. But this shift in tactics isn’t going to make the problem of his past positions suddenly disappear.
Despite Romney’s tough talk on immigration during his last campaign, in 2005 Romney told the Boston Globe that reform along the lines that Sen. John McCain proposed was “reasonable.” Romney also, at various times, supported campaign finance regulations far more sweeping than McCain-Feingold, even though he subsequently blasted that law as an attack on free speech.
Romney’s support for “No Child Left Behind,” President George W. Bush’s expansion of the federal government’s role in education, undercuts the federalist defense of his health care law. If a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for health care, why should it work for education?
Furthermore, there’s no reason to believe that social conservatives who were suspicious of Romney’s conveniently timed conversion from pro-choice to pro-life before his last presidential run will see him as any more authentic this time around.
The best hope for Romney is that a persistently weak economy and poor job market could play into his image as a savvy businessman. Yet his past as a successful turnaround artist also carries its risks.
However justified consolidating companies may be in the business world, it can be deadly in a political context. The fact that Romney’s business career involved laying off workers was effectively used against him by the late Ted Kennedy in their 1994 Senate race and by Mike Huckabee in 2008.
Huckabee insisted during a bitter presidential primary that people were looking for a candidate who reminded them “of the guy they work with, not the guy who laid them off.” Signing the Massachusetts health care law that provided the model for Obamacare is probably enough to sink Romney’s candidacy. But it’s far from the only obstacle he faces.
Philip Klein is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner.