Conservatives are so thrilled with Mitt Romney's victory in the first presidential debate Wednesday night that they're not noticing how moderate he sounded. While Romney's trajectory was downward, conservatives despaired that Romney wasn't effectively selling conservatism -- or maybe didn't understand conservatism at all. Way back before he was passed over in the 2008 Republican primary, a moderate Mitt was once the premise of his presidential candidacy and he's spent the last five years trying to prove his conservative bona fides. But if Romney's debate performance might start a comeback, his ideological impurity will be absolutely forgiven.
It's hard to overstate the level of conservative fist-pumping after the debate. "Tonight was a big win for Mitt Romney. He dominated the debate in every way. This wasn't even close," MSNBC's Joe Scarborough tweeted. He predicted big results: "Tonight's debate has changed the trajectory of this race." Less than a month ago, Scarborough's tweets were more grim. "The Romney campaign is not conservative," he said. "A real conservative would be winning now." What changed? Did Romney sound more like a "real conservative"? If you look at the transcript, no. Here are just a few of the warm-and-fuzzy moderate-sounding things Romney said in the debate:
- "I’m not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people. High-income people are doing just fine in this economy... I will not under any circumstances raise taxes on middle-income families."
- "Number one, preexisting conditions are covered under my plan. Number two, young people are able to stay on their family plan." (These are two of the popular parts of unpopular Obamacare.)
- "I would like to take the Medicaid dollars that go to states and say to a state, you’re going to get what you got last year, plus inflation, plus 1 percent, and then you’re going to manage your care for your poor in the way you think best."
- "The primary responsibility for education is... at the state and local level. But the federal government also can play a very important role. And I agree with Secretary Arne Duncan... some ideas he’s put forward on Race to the Top, not all of them, but some of them I agree with and congratulate him for pursuing that."