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.