You can skip past the jump if you don't want my introduction and just would like the 'meat.'
While the last minute concession towards sanity saved U.S. Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida, Chief Justice Roberts did so with a defense that had little precedent - distinguishing the power of Congress to regulate action and inaction. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was saved by reclassifying the individual mandate as a tax. This unusual holding gave Mitt Romney a new talking point: that the President had supported a tax increase on Americans.
Governor Romney didn't care that the effects of the tax were minimal at best; he only cared that he had a new talking point. And he stumped on that all day long whenever he thought he could get away without someone pointing out that he had implemented the same tax in his own state. Despite multiple changes in position as to whether or not Gov. Romney supported the PPACA and Massachusetts' equivalent law, he was firm about attacking Pres. Obama on the tax issue. After all, what is a Republican without tax cuts? (Answer: Someone with comprehensible fiscal sense.)
That changed yesterday; Mitt Romney pivoted into unfamiliar territory: the truth. "I admit this, he has one thing he did not do in his first four years, he's said he's going to do in his next four years, which is to raise taxes," Gov. Romney acquiesced about Pres. Obama, to the backdrop of a wincing Paul Ryan.
The admission, of course, hurts the Romney campaign by essentially admitting that a major prong of his media attack is founded on lies. But why did he say it? Normally, Gov. Romney's tortured relationship with his messaging strategy is the result of trying to say different things to different audiences - bounce back between a moderate and an extremist position in some bizarre political shell game. When he has remained consistent between audiences, it was to make a political point; analyst amazement at his insensitivity to his NAACP audience became a faint, damning praise when it became clear that he intentionally irritated them to score points with his base.
In other words, Gov. Romney's inconsistency and occasional lack thereof has been deliberate. So what gain did he shoot for with this latest bomb?
It's no secret that Gov. Romney's only chance for an October Surprise is the debates. The President leads in every aspect of national confidence except for the economy, and he's not doing too bad there anymore. Unemployment dropped again last month, consumer confidence continues to crawl upwards, and Mitt Romney has been exposed as a crass parody of such moneyed philanthropists as Flintheart Glomgold, Montgomery Burns, and every Dickens villain ever.
A lifetime of being rich and famous has not been enough in his battle against a community organizer who entered the Oval Office in a pair of shoes with a hole in them. He is being made a fool of, and the legacy of one of the most important families of the Church of Latter-Day Saints is in jeopardy. While it is unlikely that any performance there will significantly change the flow of the race for either candidate, the debates are Gov. Romney's only chance - if not to win the Presidential Election, to maintain his dignity as a man. And his prospects at holding his own are better than people are giving him credit for.
Running blooper reels of the Republican Nomination Debates does not do the man justice. Mitt Romney's ability to fire back quickly, a significant liability in both diplomacy and campaign strategy, is a rhetorical asset when it comes to a debate - particularly a timed one. However, he's only able to use this asset when he has a knowledge advantage over his opponent. When he knows what his opponent is going to come back with, Romney is good at firing salvos. When he's in unsteady ground, his debate performance is abysmal. In many ways, his style of combat is not unlike that of the Dread Pirate Roberts. So this is where Gov. Romney may have finally realized what every parent tells a fibbing child: the truth is easier than a lie. If he fights President Obama on truths, rather than the vague ambiguities which he has been using up 'til yesterday, Gov. Romney will have much more control over the flow of the debate than he would in the comedy of errors which would result from trying falsehood and meandering platitudes against the President.
If Gov. Romney decides to go into the debates, prepared to finally unveil the curtains on policy details and actually engages the President head-on, then the result could be rhetorically impressive. Because on the other hand, you have Barack Obama - he is not a natural debater. The skills between oratory and debate are only related to a certain point. Compare Gov. Romney in '94 to then-Sen. Obama in the early stages of the '08 Cycle, and it's clear who is more naturally suited to the debate floor. Yes, even in that Ted Kennedy debate. It's obvious even in the famous video of Pres. Obama at the GOP Congressional Meeting; yes, he pretty much cleans their clocks. But he's not operating on a time limit there, and there are significant, wooden pauses while he assembles his thoughts, throughout the video.
As James Fallows notes, virtually every incumbent goes into the first debate out-of-practice and at a disadvantage. The challenger has less on his plate, has lower expectations, and is still fresh on debating 'in the wild.'
Does this mean that I think Mitt Romney will win the first debate? No! Barack Obama is not just any incumbent; he has an open competitive streak in him unlike any of his recent predecessors, and it was this competitive streak that led him to adapt to and eventually best then-Sen. Clinton on her political home turf as a debater - no mean feat. He's been practicing with Vice-President Biden, who was also considered to be one of the best debaters of that cycle, despite his relatively easy 'crowd-out' against the starpower of Obama, Clinton, and Edwards.
But it does mean that I expect these three debates will have Mitt Romney in his best form. It does mean that we should expect him to come out swinging, and not a deer in headlights. He's running for office, for Pete's Sake.