Careful Romney: Voters Aren't Sure What a Ponzi Scheme Is

Attacking Rick Perry for his comments on Social Security might not help Romney

This article is from the archive of our partner .

When Rick Perry said in Wednesday's Republican debate that he still believes Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, Mitt Romney must have done a little mental fist pump. Romney said during the debate that Republicans must nominate "someone who isn't committed to abolishing Social Security, but someone who is committed to saving Social Security." Thursday, his campaign has already issued a press release about Perry's "reckless" and "wrong" position on the issue. But Romney shouldn't get too celebratory just yet. Turns out not everyone knows exactly what a Ponzi scheme is, so they might think Perry's extreme statement is just fine.

Rasmussen polled likely voters and found that only 27 percent of them agree with Perry about Social Security. Great news for Romney! But some bad news: 37 percent aren't sure whether they agree with him -- and "It is likely that many are not sure what a Ponzi scheme is."
Worse, using the term "Ponzi scheme" in reference to the most popular federal program isn't always deadly -- not just in the Republican primary, but in the general election too. The Weekly Standard's John McCormack notes that Ron Johnson put it in an ad and still was able to win Russ Feingold's Senate seat in Wisconsin. Johnson said in the ad:
"Guess what's coming in Russ Feingold's negative campaign? He's going to tell you I said, 'Washington treats Social Security as a Ponzi scheme.' You know what? I did say that. Because it's true. Russ Feingold and politicians both parties raided the Social Security trust fund of trillions and left seniors an IOU. They spent the money. It's gone. I'll fight to keep every nickel of Social Security for retirees. And I'll respect you enough to tell you the truth." 
The New Republic's Jonathan Chait argues that none of this matters anyway, because style trumps substance. "Romney approaches every question as if he is in an actual debate, trying to provide the most intellectually compelling answer available, within the bounds of political expediency," Chait writes. "Perry treats questions as interruptions. ... Romney feels compelled to bind himself to the parameters of the question before him. Perry ignores them. It is, in a sense, an alpha male move." Voters like alpha males.
Worse, The Wall Street Journal's Danny Yadron suggest Romney might not be doing much more than cutting an Obama attack ad:
Of course, suggesting one of your party's presidential candidates carries some risk. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson's re-election campaign attacked former Sen. Barry Goldwater... with a campaign ad that employed the words of then-Michigan Gov. George Romney, Mr. Romney’s father. "In June, [Gov. Romney] said Goldwater's nomination would lead to the 'suicidal destruction of the Republican Party,'" the ad says. "So even if you're a Republican with serious doubts about Barry Goldwater, you're in good company.”
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.