In the Arena

How Mitt Can Win, Cont.

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He can lie. As Bryan Walsh discusses and the New York Times amplifies today, Romney has been selling whoppers about the President’s position on gasoline prices. This continues a disturbing trend that has existed from the very start of his campaign: Romney and his handlers have been all too willing to tell blatant untruths about the President. 

There was the notorious first attack ad, where Obama seemed to be saying, “We can’t win on the economy” when actually he was quoting John McCain as saying, “We can’t win on the economy.” And there is Romney’s repeated truncation of Obama’s position on the Middle East peace process. Romney claims that Obama wants a return to the 1967 borders, without adding the crucial caveat: “with mutually agreed upon land swaps”–which has been, of course, the position of all U.S. Presidents since Nixon and is the tacit position of the Netanyahu government. This is a witting misrepresentation of Obama’s position.

These fabrications are an important, and rather strange, window into the man’s character. They show no respect for the electorate. Having drifted way right in the course of the primary campaign, Romney will soon have to start making himself plausible to the centrist voters who will decide this election. He’s been a gaffe machine in the primaries, and has a well-deserved reputation of a flip-flopper. The recent unearthing of Romney’s paeans to the need for an individual health insurance mandate–an eminently reasonable position, by the way–reinforce the enduring problems he has with trustworthiness. And trustworthiness is the absolute coin of the realm in presidential politics.

Making principled distinctions between his views and the President’s is not only the best way to proceed; given Romney’s persistent wobbles, it is the only way he can regain credibility. Telling cheesy lies about the President’s positions is bound to be counterproductive on the big stage of presidential politics in the general election campaign. It could define him as a candidate.

Update: Here’s a further elaboration on Romney’s lightbulb whopper mentioned at the end of the Times piece.