So Mitt Romney “mispoke,” and Paul Krugman nailed him on it:

Speaking in Michigan, Mr. Romney was asked about deficit reduction, and he absent-mindedly said something completely reasonable: “If you just cut, if all you’re thinking about doing is cutting spending, as you cut spending you’ll slow down the economy.” A-ha. So he believes that cutting government spending hurts growth, other things equal.

The right’s ideology police were, predictably, aghast; the Club for Growth quickly denounced the statement as showing that Mr. Romney is “not a limited-government conservative.” On the contrary, insisted the club, “If we balanced the budget tomorrow on spending cuts alone, it would be fantastic for the economy.” And a Romney spokesman tried to walk back the remark, claiming, “The governor’s point was that simply slashing the budget, with no affirmative pro-growth policies, is insufficient to get the economy turned around.”

Krugman goes on to argue that of course, Romney understands austerity policies are bad for the economy–in the U.S. as in Europe–that his economic advisors are not fools, and that Mitt’s walk-back of his heresy is part and parcel of a “campaign of almost pathological dishonesty” aimed at tricking the GOP’s conservative “base,” which quite rightly doesn’t trust him.

Personally, I’m something of an agnostic on the whole subject of what Romney believes or doesn’t believe, and am not sure it really matters. The problem with Krugman’s hypothesis is that it encourages the belief that once in office, Romney would stop having to play the fool and might not be that bad a president, so long as you don’t mind adding him to the list of pathological liars who have occupied the Oval Office.

It’s worth remembering Grover Norquist’s recent assurance to conservatives about Romney that it doesn’t really matter if the man is a “true believer”–the key thing is getting the veto pen out of Obama’s hand and giving congressional Republicans the actual reins of power.

Moreover, as the incident Krugman describes actually illustrates, the “right’s ideological police” will remain vigilant, slapping Romney back into compliance every time he wanders from the True Faith. At a time when Mitt still has a long tough path to tread before completely securing the presidential nomination, you can expect him to be administered, and to accept, any number of additional blood oaths that even a pathological liar will be held accountable for in the future. At some point, it kind of stops mattering what he really believes; he becomes the agent of people who know exactly what they believe, and how to apply those beliefs in every aspect of public policy.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.