The ‘progressive’ question Romney won’t answer

A couple of weeks ago, a pretty damaging video of Mitt Romney in 2002 started making the rounds. At the time, the then-gubernatorial candidate told a local news station, “I think people recognize that I’m not a partisan Republican, that I’m someone who is moderate. My views are progressive.”

Because Romney’s rivals are either incompetent or broke — or I suppose in some cases, both — the revelation didn’t really go anywhere. But some Republicans heard about it anyway, and on Fox News this morning, Romney’s press secretary, Andrea Saul, was asked about the 2002 quote. She replied:

“Anyone that wants to know how Governor Romney would govern — they need to look no further than his record in Massachusetts. Everything he did was as a conservative.”

The Fox host followed up, asking, “If he’s as conservative as you say, then why did he call himself a ‘moderate’ and ‘progressive’?” Saul added:

“Again, look at this record. As Governor of Massachusetts, he cut taxes 19 times, he balanced the budget without raising taxes, he always stood on the side of life, he vetoed in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.”

It’s curious that the Romney camp has known about this video for two weeks, and this is the best it could come up with.

There are basically two angles to this. The first is that Team Romney would have voters believe the candidate was simply lying in 2002. You’ll notice that the campaign press secretary simply couldn’t answer the Fox News question directly. Why did Romney say he’s a moderate with progressive views? It doesn’t matter, the campaign said. Pay no attention to the actual words coming out of the candidate’s mouth.

The other is that Republicans are supposed to look to Romney’s one term in office to know how he’d govern. Is that really the line the campaign wants to take? As a rule, Romney doesn’t want to talk about those four years at all — he forced the public to buy health insurance; he hired undocumented immigrants to take care of his lawn; he directed public money to pay for abortions and medical care for undocumented immigrants; and he repeatedly raised fees and taxes. Romney left office after one term wildly unpopular and with a miserable jobs record.

If Romney were part of a credible field of challengers, it seems like his rivals might be able to do something with this.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.