Romney’s Move to the Middle

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Mitt Romney speaks during a victory rally in St Petersburg, Florida on October 5, 2012.

Mitt Romney’s tack toward the political center continues apace. During a campaign swing through Iowa and Ohio on Tuesday, Romney made several overtures to key demographic groups who may be anxious about the impact of his polices. 

In an interview with the Des Moines Register‘s editorial board, Romney couched his pro-life position in softer-than-usual terms. “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda,” Romney said. This line leaves him ample wiggle room to pursue anti-abortion policy, of course, and his campaign says Romney “would of course support legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life.” But Romney’s statement may nonetheless have been reassuring to many women, a demographic group with whom he trailed badly all year until his strong debate performance last week.

As the campaigns spar over the upshot of Romney’s tax plan, the Republican nominee filled in his framework with a few key specifics Tuesday. Romney has long said he would pay for the 20% across-the-board tax cut he’s promised in part by closing loopholes and limiting deductions. This led the economists with the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center to conclude, in a white paper that made a star turn at the first presidential debate, that middle-class Americans would be negatively impacted by Romney’s plan, since they are the primary beneficiaries of the costly deductions and credits that Romney would be likely to jettison. But during an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Romney singled out two prominent deductions, promising that they’d be spared the ax: “Home mortgage interest deductions and charitable contributions, there will of course continue to be preferences for those types of expenses,” he said.

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Such pledges make it that much more difficult for Romney’s fuzzy math to add up; the more options he takes off the table, the harder he’d find it to meet his goal of doling out all these tax cuts without adding to the deficit. As William Gale, one of the authors of the Tax Policy Center study, wrote yesterday: “Romney has now also said that he does not want to raise taxes on the middle class and does not want to cut them for high-income households. Those seem like reasonable goals, but they don’t break the knot. They simply add two more constraints to the list of goals he would like to achieve and makes the list even more impossible (if there is such a thing) to achieve jointly than the earlier list.”

So why aren’t conservatives grumbling about Romney’s softer line on abortion — delivered in Evangelical Iowa, no less — or his amorphous math? Winning feels good. If the polls move against Romney, the knives will surely come out again.