NPR logo Romney's Raised Hand At Debate On Deficit Query A 'Read My Lips' Moment

Mitt Romney

Romney's Raised Hand At Debate On Deficit Query A 'Read My Lips' Moment

Mitt Romney at Fox News/Iowa GOP debate in Ames, IA, Aug. 11, 2011. Charlie Neibergall/AP hide caption

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Charlie Neibergall/AP

Mitt Romney at Fox News/Iowa GOP debate in Ames, IA, Aug. 11, 2011.

Charlie Neibergall/AP

One of the more memorable moments from the Republican debate in Ames, Iowa, was when the eight candidates were asked if they would accept a deficit-reduction deal overwhelmingly tilted toward spending cuts over tax revenue increases by a ratio of 10 to 1.

They were asked to raise their hands if they would find such a deal unacceptable because it included tax increases. Every candidate raised his or her hand.

It didn't seem to matter that in poll after poll leading up to the debt ceiling agreement, voters indicated that they want a balanced approach to deficit reduction.

It also didn't seem to matter that the proposals for deficit reduction that have come from important bipartisan committees like the Simpson-Bowles panel or the Bipartisan Policy Center have said both spending cuts and tax increases are essential to any credible plan that would significantly reduce deficits.

It was one of those times in politics when presidential candidates are prisoners of positions that may not seem the wisest or that don't appeal to common sense or pragmatism.

But if you want to win your party's nomination, sometimes you don't really have a choice. It's much easier to go where the primary voters are than to convince those voters to move toward you.

That would seem to be especially true for Mitt Romney, the presumed GOP frontrunner.

With a reputation for changing his positions on major issues, voters, especially conservatives, have questions. What does he really, unshakably believe? Is he really a conservative or are his politics situational and relative? Is he really one of them.

With Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a politician whose conservatism few question entering the race, those questions become even more pronounced for Romney than ever.

His raised hand was a sign to them that, yes, he really is one of them. It was something of a "read my lips. No new taxes" moment. Like Romney, George H. W. Bush, who was Ronald Reagan's vice president in 1988 when he uttered those famous words, had to prove that he, too, was truly a conservative because of suspicions by hardliners in the party that he wasn't.

Of course, Bush vindicated those suspicions and hurt his re-election chances by later signing onto a deficit-reduction deal that included new taxes.

Because Romney, like everyone, is a prisoner of his past, the pressure will be strong on him to stick with that raised hand.

Other candidates might have a little more leeway to do the usual shift from the end of the political spectrum which they inhabit during the primary campaign to the political center once they win the nomination.

But with so many voters and journalists having their flip-flop radars turned on to their most sensitive settings for Romney, he would only confirm voters worst fears if he should win the nomination and then say he would take that 10 to 1 deal after all.