Ever since the United States got involved in the dispute over Ukraine — and ended up in a challenging place with Russia over it — people have been quietly reviving statements that former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made during the 2012 election about his foreign policy concerns. When Russia decided they’d like to annex Crimea this week, the dig into the Romney archive began anew, with consensus from his co-partiers — and from some people who would never admit to liking him — generally falling along the lines of “oh my dear lord, Mitt was right all along!”
Campaign statements about the Affordable Care Act and general gloom and doom were also recycled. One Web site went so far as to ask if Romney was the next Nostradamus. Actually, more than one Web site crowned him the seer of our time.
Is the hype true?
Let us go through some of Romney’s old statements, and add some context to the conversation.
First of all, Russia I indicated is a geopolitical foe. Not… excuse me. It’s a geopolitical foe, and I said in the same — in the same paragraph I said, and Iran is the greatest national security threat we face. Russia does continue to battle us in the U.N. time and time again. I have clear eyes on this. I’m not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia, or Mr. Putin.
This is the Romney prediction that has been getting the most press lately. Over the course of the 2012 campaign, Romney repeatedly called Russia “our number one geopolitical foe.” However, when Obama pushed back against that statement in the Oct. 22, 2012, debate, Romney downgraded Russia to a geopolitical foe, as David Weigel pointed out last September. Romney decided in the end that he wasn’t set on casting the former Soviet Union as the big baddie of his hypothetical administration. He just saw Russia as a foe for all geopolitical generations.
Was Romney right?
With the conflict in Ukraine escalating and President Vladimir Putin actively annexing Crimea, many people are citing Romney’s “number one geopolitical foe” line with vindication. The fact that the New York Times editorial board wrote at the time that such rhetoric was “either a shocking lack of knowledge about international affairs or just craven politics” made Romney’s supporters even more gleeful. Last September, a Romney friend told Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins, “Everyone thought, Oh my goodness that is so clever and Mitt’s caught in the Cold War and doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Well guess what. With all of these foreign policy initiatives — Syria, Iran, [Edward] Snowden — who’s out there causing problems for America? It’s Putin and the Russians.” Media outlets on the left and right have mentioned Romney’s remarks as “just about right” over the past year. Romney has begun “I told you so-ing” too. In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, he wrote,
In virtually every foreign-affairs crisis we have faced these past five years, there was a point when America had good choices and good options. There was a juncture when America had the potential to influence events. But we failed to act at the propitious point; that moment having passed, we were left without acceptable options. In foreign affairs as in life, there is, as Shakespeare had it, “a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.”
The difference between the foreign policy school Romney belongs to and the Obama administration is that one group has no problem seeing the world through Cold War-colored glasses, while the other would like to think we’ve moved past that mindset. As the president said in late February, “our approach in the United States is not to see these as some Cold-War chessboard in which we’re in competition with Russia.”
Unfortunately, the rest of the world has no problem viewing political strategy as a big board game, which is why the White House failed to predict how Russia would act with Syria and Ukraine and Edward Snowden in advance. As Stephen Walt put it earlier this month,”Did we really think that power politics was no longer relevant in the 21st century, and that the spread of democracy, free markets, rule of law, and all that other good stuff meant that other states were no longer willing to defend their own security interests?
The unfortunate and unrelenting old-school nature of international politics is what Mitt Romney was most right about.
“You know that if the president were to be elected, he would still be unable to work with members of Congress. He’s ignored them, he’s attacked them, he’s blamed them. And of course the debt ceiling is going to come up again, and then there’d be a threat of shutdown or default. And that of course chills the economy, puts more people out of work.”
Was Romney right?
Yes. The debt ceiling came up. More than once. There was a shutdown. There was a threat of default. Obama still doesn’t get along with Congress. However, this was not a claim that required clairvoyance. Obama and Congress had already faced off in a series of debt-ceiling showdowns. Nothing suggested that future fights would end any differently. Romney was right, but so was everyone else watching.
Romney’s point also completely skips the part where Congress ignored, attacked and blamed Obama. During the January 2013 debt-ceiling fight, 45 percent of Americans said they’d blame Republicans in Congress if a shutdown happened. When a shutdown finally did happen, they blamed Republicans too. Why? Because congressional Republicans wanted things — like raising entitlement reform — in return for raising the debt ceiling. If President Romney attacked Senate Democrats who tried to raise the minimum wage in return for raising the debt ceiling, he’d probably think such a characterization of the political landscape was unfair. Blaming the president for near default might be a good campaign throwaway line, but it misses some of the complexity of the situation — like most campaign lines (see Obama’s questionable campaign line below).
If the president’s re-elected, Obamacare will be fully installed. In my view that’s going to mean a whole different way of life for people who counted on the insurance plan they had in the past. Many will lose it.
Was Romney right?
Romney said this during the Oct. 3, 2012, presidential debate. The first part is unequivocally true; Obama was re-elected, and House Republicans have been unable to get the Senate to sign on to their many attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. President Obama countered Romney’s second statement — that many Americans would lose their insurance plans — from 2009 up until this November, by saying that people who liked their health-care plan, could keep their health-care plan.
Except everyone knew this wasn’t quite true. Administration estimates from July 2010 showed that “40 to 67 percent” of private health-insurance customers would have health-care plans ineligible for the grandfather clause Obama had been talking about. That percentage works out to about 7 to 12 million people, as Sarah Kliff reported last year. That’s a relatively small fraction of the entire population of Americans who have health insurance, but it is plenty large enough to provide anecdotal horror stories for the media until the end of time.
Most of the customers who received cancellation notices after October 1, 2013, had health-insurance plans that didn’t meet Affordable Care Act standards. The Obama administration contends that now these people will be able to get better insurance, and in most cases tax subsidies to stave off price increases. Customers who bought a plan after Obamacare was enacted, or who have health-care plans that have changed their deductibles, co-pays or benefits since the Affordable Care Act was enacted, also received cancellation notices.
At the end of 2013, Politifact called “if you like your plan, you can keep it,” the lie of the year.
Obama has repeatedly apologized for not peppering his health-insurance marketing with more nuance. The White House is allowing states to stave off cancellations until 2016 if they want, but for the near future, damage is done. If the Affordable Care Act ends up working well a few years from now, its early framing fumbles — and real fumbles — may fade. For now, however, the flubs will hover over any health-care debate.
In many cases, the people who lost insurance are going to have better and cheaper insurance. But, as a University of Michigan professor told Bloomberg last year, “the first thing you get that affects you personally is that you’ve lost your health insurance. That approach is going to backfire politically.”
It has, and many conservatives have gone back to Romney’s many quotes on Obamacare cancellations to strike up a “told-you-so” choir. Yes, Romney was right. But the Obama administration also knew he was right. They just did a very bad job of telling the public of why cancellations might be a good thing for many people.