Romney displayed many vulnerabilities at CNN debate

At Thursday’s CNN Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney won the immigration exchange with Newt Gingrich. But three specific instances again left those who may have been warming to Romney with concern that the former Massachusetts governor may implode against President Barack Obama in the fall. Romney’s camp, earlier in the day, sought to portray Gingrich as someone who was “unhinged” but there is a case to be made that Romney may pose even more of a risk for Republicans in a general election.

Clinton-style trickery with words

Gingrich noted that Romney said he was, in 1992, “donating to the Democrats for Congress and voted for Paul Tsongas in the Democratic primary” and, in 1994, “running against Teddy Kennedy, he said flatly, I don’t want to go back to the Reagan-Bush era, I was an independent.”

“Just a short clarification,” Romney jumped in. “I’ve never voted for a Democrat when there was a Republican on the ballot.”

Basically, Romney was technically right because even though the Republicans had a primary in Massachusetts in 1992 (Pat Buchanan versus President George H.W. Bush), there obviously was not a Republican on the Democratic ballot — that would be impossible — that he cast.

This slight trickery in wordplay reinforced the notion that he is a typical politician, devoid of core beliefs, willing to say anything, anywhere in order to get elected. It is also the type of thing that drives people outside the beltway nuts and makes them wonder on what other issues has Romney been too clever by half. 

Lack of outrage at RomneyCare

“First of all, it’s not worth getting angry about,” Romney said, responding to Santorum’s obvious frustrations about RomneyCare.

Santorum said that if Romney were to face Obama and say that ObamaCare should be repealed, Obama would simply say to Romney, “wait a minute, Governor. You just said that top-down government-run medicine in Massachusetts works well.”

Santorum said that people in Massachusetts are not willing to pay a cheaper fine and get on health insurance instead of paying for more expensive health insurance, which resulted because of the Massachusetts mode.

Santorum added: “Folks, we can’t give this issue away in this election. It is about fundamental freedom.”

But Romney’s lack of anger is troubling for two reasons besides the electability issue that Santorum brought up. First, it shows he does not understand the outrage against ObamaCare — and by extension, RomneyCare — that sprung a nationwide revolt during the 2010 midterm elections and revived the Republican party.

Conservatives fear that Romney, even if he were to somehow be elected president, would sell them out the minute he was sworn in. Brushing off Santorum’s concern and anger about RomneyCare and not even acknowledging why conservatives would be so mad about it, also lends credence to fears that conservatives have about a man who ran away from the Reagan legacy while trying to run to the left of Ted Kennedy in 1994.

More doubletalk

At the debate, Romney said he had not seen a Spanish language ad his campaign ran against Gingrich, saying that Gingrich had referred to Spanish as the “language of the ghetto.”

“I haven’t seen the ad, so I’m sorry. I don’t get to see all the TV ads,” Romney said.

Blitzer, later in the debate, said CNN did a double-check and discovered it was, indeed, a Romney ad.

“It was one of your ads. It’s running here in Florida in — on the radio. And at the end you say, ‘I’m Mitt Romney and I approve this ad,’” Blitzer said.

Again, when a politician is stereotyped as being all over the place on issues — much in the way Al Gore and John Kerry were stereotyped — every one of these instances further perpetuates those stereotypes that a master politician like Obama can exploit at will.