June 16th, 2007

Mitt’s Words That Work

Mitt Romney’s various changes of heart demand a ready repository of finely tuned explanations. Rhetorically, if not factually, his answers are brilliant, employing what pollster Frank Luntz calls “words that work.” This does not necessarily mean answering the question, but reframing it onto common or comfortable territory. Some examples:

1. On abortion, from the third GOP debate:

Q: You made . . . this decision on abortion, opposing abortion, relatively recently. Why should conservatives out there, people who oppose abortion believe you?

A: I’m not going to apologize for the fact that I became pro-life.

2. On his changes of hearts, from his announcement for president:

I haven’t always been a Ronald Reagan conservative. But then again, neither was Ronald Reagan.

3. On abortion, from an address earlier this week to the National Right to Life organization:

I proudly follow a long line of converts—George Herbert Walker Bush, Henry Hyde and Ronald Reagan, to name a few. I am evidence that your work, that your relentless campaign to promote the sanctity of human life, bears fruit.

4. On being Mormon, from the third GOP debate:

Q: [T]here was a recent poll here in New Hampshire. Ten percent said they wouldn’t vote for you because you’re a Mormon. And last week we saw that picture of that man who refused to shake your hand because you are a Mormon. What would you like to say to the voters out there tonight about your faith, about yourself and about God?

A: Well, President Kennedy some time ago said he was not a Catholic running for president; he was an American running for president. And I’m happy to be a proud member of my faith. You know, I think it’s a fair question for people to ask, What do you believe? And I think if you want to understand what I believe, you could recognize that the values that I have are the same values you’ll find in faiths across this country. I believe in God, believe in the Bible, believe Jesus Christ is my savior. I believe that God created man in his image. I believe that the freedoms of man derive from inalienable rights that were given to us by God. And I also believe that there are some pundits out there that are hoping that I’ll distance myself from my church so that that’ll help me politically, and that’s not going to happen.

Addendum (6/25/2007): One glaring exception was Romney’s answer to the question, “Knowing everything you know right now, was it a mistake for us to invade Iraq?”

Well, I answered the question by saying it’s a—it’s a non sequitur, it’s a null set kind of question, because you can go back and say, if we knew then what we know now, by virtue of inspectors having been let in and giving us that information, by virtue of if Saddam Hussein had followed the U.N. resolutions, we wouldn’t be having this—this discussion. So it’s a hypothetical that I think is an unreasonable hypothetical. And the answer is, we did what we did; we did the right thing based on what we knew at that time. I think we made mistakes following the conduct—or the collapse of Saddam’s government.

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