Team Romney launched four off-site attacks on Rick Perry during last night’s presidential debate. Today they’re out with another one. The latest attack accuses Perry of being “reckless” and “wrong on Social Security.” Sporting the same “career politician” graphic that first appeared during the Reagan Library debate, the Romney press release takes hammer and tong to Perry’s positions on Social Security. Text:
RICK PERRY: RECKLESS, WRONG ON SOCIAL SECURITY
“Our nominee has to be someone who isn’t committed to abolishing Social Security, but who is committed to saving Social Security.” – Mitt Romney
Governor Perry Believes Social Security Should Not Exist:
Perry Does Not Believe Social Security Should Exist, Asking: “Why Is The Federal Government Even In The Pension Program…?” PERRY: “When you look at Social Security, it’s broke. … Get it back to the states. Why is the federal government even in the pension program or the health care delivery program? Let the states do it. … That, I will suggest to you, is one of the ways this federal government can get out of our business, save a lot of money and get back to that Constitutional way of doing business in those enumerated powers that they’re supposed to have.” (MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” 11/5/10)
“[A Perry Spokesman] Refused To Explicitly Deny That Perry Wants To ‘End’ The Program, Despite Repeated Attempts … To Clarify Perry’s Stance.” (Huffington Post, 9/8/11)
In Fed Up!, Perry Says Social Security Is In Place “At The Expense Of Respect For The Constitution.” “Social Security is something that we’ve been forced to accept for more than 70 years now. … at the expense of respect for the Constitution and limited government.” (Rick Perry, Fed Up!, 2010, p. 50)
Perry: “Let The States [Decide] How To Run The Pensions.” PERRY: “There’s a number of things in that book that will strike Americans as horrifying. And we must, as a people, get put back in the box. Get this government back to the limited form that our founding fathers sought. Let the states, whether it is how to run Medicaid, how to run the pensions.” (FOX’s “On The Record With Greta Van Susteren,” 11/8/10)
Perry: “By Any Measure, Social Security Is A Failure.” (Rick Perry, Fed Up!, 2010, p. 62)
Governor Romney Believes Social Security Should Be Fixed For Current And Future Retirees:
Mitt Romney Believes In Entitlement Reform That Preserves Benefits For Current And Future Retirees While Ensuring Long-Term Solvency. “Any serious attempt to rein in spending will have to include entitlement reform. This issue is among the most complex facing policymakers, but some basic principles guide Mitt Romney’s position. First, we must keep the promises made to our current retirees: their Social Security and Medicare benefits should not be affected. But second, we should ensure that the promises that we make to younger generations are promises we can keep. With respect to Social Security, there are a number of options that can be pursued to keep the system solvent – from raising the eligibility age to changing the way benefits are indexed to inflation for high-income retirees.” (Romney for President, “Believe In America: Mitt Romney’s Plan For Jobs And Economic Growth,” 2011, p. 142)
Romney: “Our Nominee Has To Be Someone Who Isn’t Committed To Abolishing Social Security, But Who Is Committed To Saving Social Security.” (Mitt Romney, Remarks At GOP Presidential Debate, 9/7/11)
As in the previous Romney hits, this press release mostly quotes critics from the GOP’s left to attack Perry, who is running to Romney’s right in the primary.
Romney’s repeated press hits also miss two very important facts. One, Social Security does actually fit the definition of a Ponzi scheme (but being compulsory, is actually worse than a private sector Ponzi scheme), and two, at least one successful GOP presidential contender of the past ran on a platform that included criticizing Social Security, and won. His name was Ronald Reagan.
In September 1980, the DNC circulated old newspaper clippings quoting Reagan as saying that the program should be voluntary. During his debate with Reagan, President Carter zeroed in on the issue, saying that such approaches “are very dangerous to the security, the well being and the peace of mind of the retired people of this country and those approaching retirement age.” And Democrats thought that one of the Gipper’s debate comments provided them with even more material: “The Social Security system was based on a false premise, with regard to how fast the number of workers would increase and how fast the number of retirees would increase.” Reagan, of course, won big. And he carried the over-60 vote by a 13-point margin.
This doesn’t mean Perry will win because he is saying the same thing, more or less, that Reagan said. But Perry and the rest of the GOP field are running against Jimmy Carter 2.0 in Barack Obama. And Mitt Romney is painting himself into a corner from which he as president would have no mandate to touch entitlement reform, and entitlement reform is the greatest structural fiscal problem that the nation faces. Romney’s attacks on Perry for saying something that most Americans have heard before and probably agree with strikes me as a fairly significant strategic error.