Conservatives Believe Romney Should Have Passed Up Chance to Make $10,000

There are many options for the worst bet this primary season.  “Rick Perry’s no flash in the pan.”  “Herman Cain will never give up.”  “Newt Gingrich will stop offering at least 50 unrealistic ideas per speech.”  But some are making the case that Romney’s $10,000 bet (offered with an extended hand to Rick Perry in the recent ABC debate) is the worst bet of Romney’s career.  Not only that, but it’s a horrible, rotten, no-good thing to do.  It shows how tone-deaf Romney is, they say, to the suffering of the average man.  It’s amazing how quickly the crowd that supported Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich became raging populists when they thought it would help them defeat Mitt.

You might call it twisting the knife, but many are hoping this is the proverbial “fork,” the long-awaited sign that Mitt Romney is finally done, over, cooked.  So you have the likes of Erick Erickson and Ben Domenech saying that Romney should have been more sensitive to the fact that $10,000 is, you know, a lot of money for most people.

I think it’s ridiculous.  Next thing you know, these Guardians of Conservatism are going to start telling Mitt Romney that he needs to finish his dinner plate because of those starving children in Ethiopia.

So, while I don’t usually respond to the little backs-and-forths of the new cycle, I want to respond to this.

Perry was claiming that Romney wrote, in the first edition of his 2010 book, No Apology, and then cut from the paperback version, that his Massachusetts health-care program should be a “model” for the federal plan.  Romney offered to bet Perry $10,000 that Perry was wrong.  Perry demurred, saying that he was “not a betting man.”  Romney clearly believed that he had won the point.  One debate post-mortem gave Perry credit for having “successfully goaded Mitt Romney into one of the worst moments he’s had in a debate so far.”  Apparently one gets credit for telling a lie long enough that the opponent gets frustrated and asks you to put your money where your mouth is.

What are the facts?  As usual, Perry is confused on the details.  In his hardcover version of the book, Romney wrote: “We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country, and it can be done without letting government take over health care.”  In the paperback version, the portion written in italics above is deleted.  Romney has the facts on his side.  He did not delete from the second version a claim that the Massachusetts plan should be a model for the nation.  In fact, his statement explicitly opposed a government takeover.

This is part of what makes the faux anxiety over Romney’s bet silly. It’s not a gamble when you know the answer.  I would never be willing to make a $10,000 bet on a coin toss, because I don’t know the outcome of the toss and I’m not that wealthy.  But I would be completely willing to bet $10,000 that I just drank a Venti Chai-Creme Frappuccino.  Why?  Because I’m a wealthy man, born to wealth, who has no ken for the suffering of the proletariat?  No.  Because I want to make $10,000 and I know it will only cost me a handshake.

So, paradoxically, people who are chiding Romney for being too wealthy — Republicans, mind you, believers in the free market, who want everyone to be rich — are saying that he should never have tried to make $10,000.  He would show his understanding for how badly most Americans need to make money by…well, by refusing to make money.  That makes sense!

Don’t be fooled by the criticism.  Romney’s support was never predicated on an experiential understanding of the plight of those who live on $30,000 a year.  And you know what?  I don’t think people who make $30K a year really care.  They just want a guy who can turn around the economy.  They don’t want someone who knows what it’s like to be jobless; they want someone who can create jobs.  And Romney is a consummate turnaround artist.  That’s a large part of why I support him.  His competency and skills are off the charts.

Now, there was a change between the hard-cover and the soft-cover versions of the book.  That’s true.  Romney has, in speeches and interviews, used the phrase “model for the nation.”  That’s true, too.  But the question at issue in the bet was whether Romney had removed a line from the book about his state solution serving as a national model.  It’s demonstrably false.  All you have to do is look at the two books.

Furthermore, when you look at Romney’s comments on this in context, his point is that the way in which Massachusetts solved the problem can be a model for other states.  Other states, too, should look thoughtfully and creatively at the problems and resources within their states and craft the solutions that work best for them.  That’s why we call the fifty states “laboratories of democracy.”

I understand why he removed the phrase he did.  It was easily misinterpreted.  When you talk about “the country,” are you referring to the states or to the federal government?  He’s been clear on the reasons why his state solution does not make sense for the country.  But when you’re running for office, you have to consider how your opponents are going to twist your words.  That’s why he removed the phrase, wisely or not.

I’m biased.  I’ve been public about the fact that I am a supporter of Mitt Romney.  But this is silly.  I don’t think that Romney is perfect, and I sure don’t think that the Romney campaign has been perfect.  But we should be focusing on who has the experience and the expertise to turn this country around economically, and who will represent our social and political values well.  For reasons I’ll explain more in the coming weeks, I think that guy is Mitt Romney.  What we should not be wasting our time fighting over is whether a $10K bet, when you absolutely know you have the facts on your side, is insensitive to the plight of the poor.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Larry

    I didn’t feel Mitt had demonstrated insulation from the middle class when he uttered those words … but I knew immediately that he’d regret it. The media would simply find it irresistible. I just found it silly … I thought we left “bet ya” behind with our cap and gown at the high school front desk.

    I found more damning his attempt to identify key differences with Newt followed next by a his assertion that Newt had erred seriously by stating the truth about “Palestinians”. Those were, I thought, his worst moments of the night.

    The “bet” became an issue for the media instantly because it plays into their class warfare narrative. He should have seen that coming.

    As to conservatives making something of it, well, that’s petty politics. Of course, Mitt’s not innocent in such attacks, nor are his surrogates … so in that regard its just a bit of “what goes around, comes around”.

    I do agree though that the schadenfreude among some conservatives is more than a little distasteful … and stupid.

  • DLS

    I agree that this is one of the silliest criticisms that we’ve seen. It’s up there with the manufactured outrage over Gingrich’s line of credit at Tiffany’s.

  • G. Kyle Essary

    It’s a silly criticism, but what a dumb thing to say. It’s not up there with “oops,” but I think most people see it as pretty close. Mitt was already struggling to get the conservative/teaparty types, but this along with Chris Christie talking him up only further labels Mitt as an out-of-touch, rich moderate. He really needs to do something fast to get the conservatives (like Gingrich has done…who is himself pretty moderate on some topics), or else his already uphill campaign is done.

  • John Haas

    Apparently, according to the NYT, he’s actually rather frugal. But that he’d so quickly make it a bet, and that $10k would immediately leap to mind . . . well, no one’s going to claim, as they did with Nixon, that he’s “one of us.”

    • I don’t know John – I remember betting my brother “a million dollars” quite a few times when we were growing up. Because it was a ridiulous number and my point was to demonstrate my confidence that I was right and he was wrong.

      • John Haas

        Could be. He seemed serious to me, and he certainly could afford $10k. But yeah, the broader point–that stuff like this gets all the attention, whereas more important things (like the fact that he’s all but promised to go to war with Iran) are neglected–is enough to make you really disgusted with the US political circus, and cry Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

  • John Haas

    Btw, his father George Romney’s presidential ambitions were popped by a slip of the tongue when he admitted to having been “brainwashed”:

    Watching that is such an eye-opener on so many levels . . .

  • Kubrick’s Rube

    You’re spot on here, Tim.

    This is such a silly story. The whole point of loudly making large money bets is that you know you’re right. Romney didn’t offer to wager on the Giants/Cowboys game, he used a common conversational device to make his point about a verifiable fact.

    I bet $10,000 that if Romney had used $1,000,0000 instead, this would have be perceived as the non-issue it actually is. Possibly even remembered as a good smack-down. Part of what makes the “I bet you” formulation effective is exaggerating the proposition in proportion to your confidence that you’re right.

  • Actually Tim, Romney would have lost that $10,000. In a general sense, he said on multiple occasions that he thought that the Massachusetts plan could serve as a national template. But in the specific case of the phrase from the book, everything rides on what “the same thing” is supposed to mean. I think there’s every good reason to interpret “the same thing” to mean utilizing the MA health reform plan as the model for the entire country.

    Furthermore, the subordinate clause about “government takeover of healthcare” is not a refutation of the “the same thing” clause, precisely because neither the MA plan, the ACA, nor the particular issue of the individual mandate constitute a “government takeover of healthcare.” It’s simply a misstatement of fact to suggest that it is.

    I think the more relevant issue has to do not with WHETHER Romney thought that the MA plan should be a national model (he clearly did), but HOW it should be a national model, and I think its completely fair for him to say that as a model it would work well on the STATE level by having individual states impose an individual mandate, but that this is not something the federal government should be in control of. He’s said as much at various times, and while I disagree with him on that, it’s an honorable federalist position to hold. Its the wholesale dodge that he’s engaged in now that feeds into the (in my opinion accurate) narrative that he’ll say anything to be President).

    But on the substance I disagree with you: He’d lose that bet, and now Gingrich, Perry, and others are tarring him with the fact that he can easily afford to lose it.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Perry’s claim is false both on a literal level, and in a “spirit of the law” level.

      Here’s what Perry said; “I read your first book, and it said in there that your mandate in Massachusetts should be a model for the country. I know it came out of the reprint of the book, but I’m just saying…” The book did not say that the Massachusetts plan should be a model for the country. What was deleted was: “We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country.” These are clearly different statements.

      On the level of the spirit of the text, let’s say, what Perry is trying to suggest is that Romney wanted the Massachusetts solution to be a model for the federal government. That’s not what was stated in the first version of the book, or in the second.

      Now, abstracting from the bet and the book, since the bet had to do with the book and what was deleted from it: There are some interviews — especially when you splice them just right and cut out the context — where Romney speaks of the approach they took in Massachusetts as a model. But as I stated, and as you echoed, Mitt makes the very plausible case that what he’s saying here is essentially federalist, that Massachusetts took the initiative to solve its own problems on the state level. Romney has been pretty consistent in advocating medical care on the state level.

      • Hey, I’m glad that my post didn’t disappear!

        I think where we disagree Tim, as I said in my post above and on my blog, is in the meaning of the phrase “the same thing.” I read “the same thing” to mean “the Massachusetts plan.” Now, he may or may not have had in mind that it was a model to be carried out on a state-by-state basis (i’m sure you’re right that he did), but I think you parse this far too closely if you don’t think that by the phrase “the same thing” he doesn’t essentially mean exactly what Perry says he means, namely “that the MA law should be a model for the country.”

        The real point, upon which you and I agree I think, is that there are several ways for the law to be a “model for the country.” One way is that individual states adopt it. Another is that it becomes the template for a national reform plan.

        And honestly, if Romney had one the presidency in 2008, I think he probably would have used the MA plan as a template for a national reform effort, and conservatives would have applauded it as a “market based” reform. But since Obama did it, the same approach has been labeled a “government takeover of healthcare.”

        But on the substance, Perry was indeed correct.

        • That should be “won” the presidency, not “one” it. As Rick Perry would say, “oops.”

  • Timothy explained the situation elegantly and better than I could. I was coming up with the explanation that it was classier than saying, “Rick, you are a bald face liar and you know it.” Maybe the Iowa farmers could relate to that, but all the voters are not farmers. Cavuto, Baier and Krauthammer at Fox all got it but it went over the heads of every main stream media mogul that Mitt had called the bluff of the Texas holdem guy on a sure thing. A couple of things everyone should know by now, never tell a man what he believes or an author what he wrote in his book. You would likely be wrong. Cain and the other candidates got the point but the rest of the world is mostly oblivious.

  • Steve Bigelow

    It becomes more and more clear that most people make up their minds as to who their choice is and then frame or spin their arguments solely based on whats good for their choice and whats negative to the competitor. This is human nature. Its sad that most are not honest enough with themselves to admit this tendency or to try to overcome it by actually exploring a competitors worthiness. This makes our presidential election, perhaps the most important decision to be made in modern America, just another popularity contest where the race will be decided by who gets the most media support and has very little to do with what candidates actually think and what they could or would do to save our freedom, constitution and country.

  • Bob Myers

    I fear Gingrich as a nominee, and as head of the Republican and conservative movement. If he is for traditional values, his track record of two affairs, and the way he handled his divorce, disqualifies him from leadership. Nominating him will handicap conservatives, and create a sense of hypocrisy, even if not literally true.

    I’m not sure I could abstain from voting, but if Gingrich is the nominee, I would seriously consider it.

    Romney is a much better candidate and standard bearer for many, many reasons.

    Gingrich was the least popular public figure, was repudiated by the most conservative leadership in congress, and has financial as well as marital scandals.