The Real Mitt Romney on ‘To Tell The Truth’

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“Will the real Mitt Romney please stand up?” 

Had he ever appeared on the long-running television game show To Tell The Truth, Mitt Romney would have made broadcast history as the first contestant to fill all three chairs.

Contestant number one, what is your real name and what do you really do?

My name is Mitt Romney. I ran for the United States Senate in 1994, challenging Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy, who had held office for more than 30 years. At that time, I was a Northeast liberal Republican imitating Bay State Governor Bill Weld, whose socially liberal positions earned him national media praise as the most pro-abortion and pro-LGBT chief executive in America. Considering Weld’s statewide popularity, that seemed the smart path to take. In my campaign and lackluster debate with Ted, I made it absolutely clear that I was neither a Reaganite nor a conservative. Despite my progressive Republican views, I got clocked by Teddy on election day, losing by nearly 20 percentage points. 

Contestant number two, what is your real name and what do you really do?

My name is Mitt Romney. In 2002, I ran for governor of Massachusetts, campaigning as a moderate Republican. I promised more effective and efficient government, while my opponent proved an inept debater and the Democrat Gang in the legislature made themselves easy punching bags. After winning election, I governed as a classic progressive “good government” Republican. I built my administration around such appointees as environmental advocate Doug Foy, my most powerful adviser whose Office of Commonwealth Development spread its regulatory tentacles into Transportation, Housing, Environment, and Energy. My judicial nominees earn praise from the liberal Boston Globe for being neither partisan nor conservative. With a clever sleight-of-hand, I hiked government fees and closed tax “loopholes,” raising more revenue for Democrat legislators to spend, while maintaining my rhetorical opposition to broad-based tax increases.

Most importantly, I imposed universal health insurance on the citizens of Massachusetts. With generous federal funding secured by old nemesis Ted Kennedy, I balanced the books by devising the “individual mandate,” which forced Massachusetts taxpayers to buy overpriced health insurance or face punitive tax penalties. When I joined with Bay State Democrats in April 2006 to celebrate the passage of universal health mandates, Teddy prophetically said:  “This is a moment to savor, of hope and promise and achievement for all the people of our Commonwealth, and perhaps the rest of the nation too.” Little did I realize that Teddy and I were setting the stage for Obamacare. President Barack Obama and the Democrats were so impressed that they adopted my individual mandate as the building block for Obamacare. They even employed the architect of Romneycare, a liberal Democrat professor at M.I.T. named Jonathan Gruber, to develop the nationwide plan. Although I claim to oppose Obamacare, I still strongly support and defend Romneycare and its “Mitt mandate.”

Contestant number three, what is your real name and what do you really do?

My name is Mitt Romney. I ran for president in 2008, losing the Republican nomination to Senator John McCain; four years later, I won the nomination, but lost the election to President Barack Obama, whose unpopular Obamacare mandates I could hardly criticize. After all, I had essentially created the Obamacare model with Romneycare in Massachusetts. How does one credibly explain that individual mandates and government regulations are good for a state, but bad for the nation? Although my Romneycare forced citizens to pay for contraception and abortion, I ran as a pro-life Republican, without ever repudiating my own anti-life insurance plan. After delivering a strong first debate, I fell into rather listless performances in the next two. I even momentarily drifted back to my Moderate Mitt from Massachusetts persona, when I uncharacteristically bragged about appointing “binders full of women” to positions in state government. Liberals ridiculed my awkward stab at sounding progressive; conservatives found it off-putting that I could not simply hire the best people to carry out my policies. 

Which of these is the “real” Mitt Romney? It’s impossible to know for certain. His late-in-life switch from pro-choice to pro-life conveniently coincided with his move from state politics to the national arena, where pro-life commitments benefit Republican candidates. When he had actually held power as governor of the Bay State for four years, he governed as a typical Northeast progressive, appointing technocrats, pragmatists, and liberals, while giving short shrift to movement conservatives. To this day, the former governor remains a proud advocate of Romneycare, his signature contribution to expansive government, increased regulation, ballooning healthcare spending, and diminished personal liberty. Whatever Romneycare is, it most certainly is not conservative. 

Like Romney’s defense of hiring “binders full of women,” his ham-handed proclamation that “I was a severely conservative Republican governor” shows why few conservatives enthusiastically embrace him. His deepest commitments are technocratic in outlook and ledger-book balancing in practice, rather than conservative at their core. This best explains his undiminished infatuation with his draconian individual mandate. 

The “Mitt mandate” targets persons who are working and paying taxes; it punishes those who bear the burden of funding government and its subsidized health coverage programs. Turning conservatism on its head, Romney classified working taxpayers as free riders. If you worked and paid taxes, but refused to purchase an overpriced government-defined health insurance plan, the Romney Administration labeled you a “free rider.”  

That definition of free rider says something profound about the way Mitt Romney looks at individual liberty, free enterprise, and big government. Meanwhile, Democrats were warming to the Mitt mandate and its free-rider punishments. The Democratic Policy and Communication Center issued a press release in June 2012 supporting Obamacare with a Romney quote:  “Using tax penalties … encourages ‘free riders’ to take responsibility for themselves.” Conservatives believe that working and paying taxes is a sign of taking responsibility for yourself; to Romney, that makes you a potential free rider. 

One might presume that a businessman like Romney would understand that forcing individuals to buy an insurance product contradicts the spirit of free enterprise. But as long as the ledger sheet added up, Governor Romney was quite willing to take the “free” out of “free enterprise” and coerce citizens into purchasing government-defined insurance or face punitive consequences. Romney’s idea of economics adds up to big business colluding with big government to force individuals to buy products in order to underwrite the liberal goal of universally mandated health insurance.

Romney’s unswerving advocacy of the Mitt mandate also demonstrates his lack of appreciation for the foundational conservative principle of individual liberty. Romney preferred the big government policy of universal health insurance over the conservative ideal of universal individual liberty. No wonder he described himself as “severely conservative.” For accuracy’s sake, he should have left off “conservative,” and simply called himself “severe.”

By promoting his anti-liberty Mitt mandate and his bureaucratic Romneycare, the former Bay State governor reveals how little he understands about conservatism. Fortunately, Congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump recently repealed Obamacare’s individual mandate at the national level. Among the senators who voted to eliminate the mandate was Utah Senator Orrin Hatch. Hatch subsequently announced that he will not seek reelection to the seat he has held onto while becoming the nation’s longest-serving Republican senator.

In what shapes up to be his final role as a contestant in the game of politics, Romney is expected to notch an easy win running for that Senate vacancy.

During his public career, Mitt Romney has shifted from Bill Weld-lite social liberal, to moderate pragmatic governor, to mainstream pro-life presidential candidate. As he has adjusted his policies and principles, Romney has retained the single fixed idea of the individual mandate. To tell the truth, Romney’s Senate campaign slogan should be:  “Mitt Romney severely supports the individual mandate.”


Joseph Tortelli is a freelancer writer. Read other articles by Mr. Tortelli here.