Mitt Romney tends to avoid policy specifics, leading critics to argue that the Republican frontrunner is afraid of what voters would think if he offered a detailed agenda before the election.
In an interview with the Weekly Standard, Romney effectively admitted that his critics are right.
“One of the things I found in a short campaign against Ted Kennedy was that when I said, for instance, that I wanted to eliminate the Department of Education, that was used to suggest I don’t care about education,” Romney recalled. “So I think it’s important for me to point out that I anticipate that there will be departments and agencies that will either be eliminated or combined with other agencies….So will there be some that get eliminated or combined? The answer is yes, but I’m not going to give you a list right now.”
Romney’s answer goes a long way to explain why some conservatives have been reluctant to embrace his candidacy. They want a list. They want it to be long, they want it to be detailed, and they want a candidate who is not only willing to provide one but eager to campaign on it…. That’s not Mitt Romney. It never will be.
This might be one of the more important comments Romney has made in a long while. He could talk in detail about his plans to eliminate key government agencies and programs – many of which may be of critical importance to working families – but Romney chooses not to. Why? Because voters might not like the truth, so the former governor believes it’s better to hide it from them.
As Jon Chait joked, “One of the things I have found in previous elections is that announcing my plans makes people want to vote against me!”
The point isn’t that Romney’s expectations are wrong; he’s probably correct to assume controversial positions on key domestic priorities would cause voters to think twice about his candidacy. Rather, the point is, it’s dishonest and cowardly for a national candidate to operate this way. Romney is effectively telling voters, “Vote for me first and then I’ll tell you which parts of government I’ll eliminate.”
It’s a remarkable message, not only for the American mainstream, which can’t be sure which of the many versions of Romney might try to govern, but also for the Republican base, which has no idea what to expect from Romney, pre- and post-Etch A Sketch.