One of the amazing things about Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign was its indifference towards the truth. Plenty of politicians lie, but Romney had a unique ability to adopt a post-truth posture.
In the traditional model, a politician would make a claim, wait for it to be discredited, and then move on to the next falsehood. Romney preferred to skip the third part – he’d lie, wait for news organizations to catch the lie, and then effectively declare, “I like the lie, so I’m just going to keep repeating it anyway.”
Yesterday, GOP presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina decided to take the Romney model out for a spin. MSNBC’s Irin Carmon explained:
At Wednesday’s second Republican debate, Carly Fiorina described a secretly recorded video from an anti-abortion group, part of a series that includes Planned Parenthood executives, as showing “a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’” She challenged Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama to watch the tapes for themselves.One problem: No such video exists.
Under the traditional rules, candidates caught telling a falsehood during a nationally televised debate would try to finesse a subtle walk-back. In a case like this, maybe Fiorina would say she was exaggerating for effect, or perhaps speaking metaphorically. Maybe she’d argue that such a scenario could happen, even if she hasn’t seen proof.
But yesterday, Fiorina instead stuck to the Romney method of campaigning.
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos gave the Republican candidate a chance to clarify, asking yesterday, “[A]nalysts who have watched all 12 plus hours say the scene you describe … actually isn’t in those tapes. Did you misspeak?”
Fiorina, caught telling an obvious falsehood, replied, “No, I didn’t misspeak.” Even though the images she described don’t exist, Fiorina went on to tell the ABC host, “I have seen those images.”
Except, of course, that’s impossible, since the scene the Republican described is “pure fiction.”
Later in the day, a Fiorina spokesperson told NBC News, “The videos speak for themselves. They are gruesome and Planned Parenthood is funded by taxpayers. Those are the facts.”
Well, those aren’t all of the facts. It’s also a fact that abortions aren’t funded by taxpayers. It’s also a fact that fetal-tissue research is legal and plays a key role in life-saving medical research. It also appears to be a fact that Carly Fiorina said something that wasn’t true to tens of millions of people on Wednesday night, but doesn’t want to admit she told a falsehood.
In the meantime, much of the political media is overlooking the candidate’s departures from the truth – Politico reported that Fiorina took a “victory lap” yesterday – praising her prime-time performance.
Disclosure: My wife works for Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this report, and her work is unrelated to the videos Fiorina tried to describe.