Mitt Romney sat down for a long interview with Fox’s Brett Baier, which aired yesterday on Fox’s “Special Report.” It’s embedded below and I recommend watching the whole 16 minutes. Romney has been avoiding this kind of long-form, Sunday-morning-show-type interview for several months and this one is generally getting panned by the politically-obsessed media.
Much of the commentary so far has been about Romney’s tone. Blogging for the New York Times, Ashley Parker used the word “snippy.” The candidate seemed annoyed by the questions, many of which attempted to give Romney an opportunity to tackle one of his biggest vulnerabilities — the perception (and it’s more than a perception) that he has changed his position on many key issues over the years and in every case changed it so that it aligns with the current politically-acceptable stance of the Republican base.
If Romney has been looking for a way to make that problem go away, he needs to keep looking. When Baier rattled off a list of issues on which Romney has allegedly flip-flopped, Romney simply told him that his list was wrong, but didn’t bother to sort out the items on the list on which his views have changed over the years and on which he claims to be the Mitt of Gibraltar.
He came across as evasive and peevish. He criticized, rejected and avoided the questions themselves and repeatedly suggested that those who want to understand his views should read his book, “No Apology,” where he claims to have laid out his views in full. Of course, even if we did that, Romney has to understand that a book, written as he prepared to launch his second presidential candidacy, is rightfully viewed as a very long campaign press release. And — sorry sir — this is unfortunately the age of Twitter and he will have to accept more cheerfully the task of persuading persuadable voters who aren’t going to read the book no matter how many times he recommends it.
Romney did acknowledge that on the abortion issue he made a fundamental change in his position. But that was the only change he acknowledged.
Baier tried to go deep with Romney on the recent flare-up between him and his current chief rival, Newt Gingrich, over the issue of what to do with illegal immigrants who have been in the U.S. for many years, have family members who are citizens and have generally behaved well since their original illegal border crossing. Romney accused Gingrich of the crime of advocating “amnesty” for such aliens.
Romney apparently has virtually the same position, but he won’t cop to it. He says these criminals should not be allowed to go to the “front of the line” to apply for citizenship, ahead of those who have obeyed the law and applied for permission before crossing the border. On the other hand, under Baier’s probing, Romney said he didn’t mind if superannuated illegals stay in the country while waiting to get from the back to the front of the line. At that point, I see no major difference between Romney’s and Gingrich’s positions, other than that, according to Romney, it is “amnesty” when Gingrich advocates it and not “amnesty” when Romney advocates it.
Romney is a very smart guy. He’ll figure out a way to do this better before he agrees to another long-form interview. For now, he won’t even take questions from the reporters who follow him around.
What he needs to do, in my humble opinion, is seriously address the question of “core convictions” vs. flip flops, and on each of the major issues square his current positions with his past statements and actions and, where there has been a change, explain it as best he can.
One problem — and this is the really tough one — is that in pretty much every case on which his position or at least his rhetoric has changed, it has changed from a leftier or more moderate position to a position that suits the political needs of the moment.
Even the politically-obsessed among us have mostly seen Romney over the past few months in the context of the 60-second-answer, 30-second-rebuttal formats of the various televised debates — formats in which he has generally done very well.
A 16-minute one-on-one interview by a solid, civil inquisitor to be aired on a Repub-friendly network could have been an opportunity to at least start the task of publicly reconciling the old Mitt with the new Mitt. But he missed it. Here’s the video of the interview: