WBUR

Helman: Mass. No Longer A ‘Four-Letter Word’ For Romney

BOSTON — One striking thing about Mitt Romney’s performance in his first presidential debate was how frequently he cited Massachusetts as a model for the country — its schools, its health care overhaul, the way its legislators coalesced on important issues regardless of party affiliation.

Romney: I like the way we did it in Massachusetts. I like the fact that in my state, we had Republicans and Democrats come together and work together… And the best course for health care is to do what we did in my state: craft a plan at the state level that fits the needs of the state.

Romney’s proud references to Massachusetts are in stark contrast to the distance he’s tried to put between himself and the state — where he was governor — since beginning his campaign for president.

For more on Romney’s change of tone, WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer spoke with Boston Globe reporter Scott Helman, co-author of the book “The Real Romney.”

Sacha Pfeiffer: Scott, this embracing of Massachusetts is a pivot for Romney, especially when you compare it to many of his public comments in the past several years — comments that suggest that he sees the time he spent here as a potential liability. So why this shift last night?

Scott Helman: Well, I think it’s pretty easy to explain. Remember, for most of the last six, seven, eight years, he’s been running for the Republican presidential nomination, and of course Massachusetts is not a very popular word in those circles.

I think last night, of course, was probably his biggest audience to date, and he’s speaking to a general election crowd now. So now Massachusetts isn’t a four-letter word. Bipartisanship, coming from a Democratic state, being successful there — all of those things are going to play much better in a general election. So I think that’s a big reason why we saw this shift in tack last night.

Also last night, he didn’t shy away from the Romneycare label, which has been so problematic for him. He said what Massachusetts did with health care reform was “a model for the nation.” But earlier in his campaigning, he’s often been on the defensive about that. What’s the political strategy behind now grabbing the mantle of health care reformer?

I think it’s largely a defensive one. You know, he has danced kind of between embracing it and rejecting it and then not talking about it at all. And I think the decision to talk about it last night is probably born out of the sense that he knew President Obama was going to talk about Obamacare, the national health care plan, and how it was modeled very much on the Massachusetts plan.

So I think Romney came prepared knowing he’d have to defend the state plan and then also why he believes the state plan is right but the federal plan is wrong. That’s a very difficult distinction, I think, for him to make.

He repeatedly used health care reform in Massachusetts as an example of how he can work in a bipartisan way. Would you remind us how that bipartisanship played out in Massachusetts when health care reform was being passed here?

I think there’s some real credit that Romney gets here on health care. This is something that Democrats have long been interested in and tried, Republicans have been interested in the past, also tried. And this was something that Mitt Romney worked closely with Ted Kennedy, of all people. He worked closely with Sal DiMasi and Robert Travaglini, the House speaker and Senate president, respectively, and he was really engaged. He was diving into the data. At one point, when things were really stuck, he even drove to the legislative leaders’ houses on a weekend. You know, interestingly, this was a big exception in many ways, because this is not how Romney had governed for much of his term. He, of course, appointed some very high-profile Democrats to his cabinet when he first was elected. He had Democrats serving on his transition teams. But when you look over his tenure, he kind of came in with that bipartisan aura, if you will, but left very, very differently. He was running against Massachusetts. He was running for president. With the exception of health care, he didn’t make much of an effort to engage himself in state issues.

Romney not only touted his own bipartisanship in Massachusetts, but he criticized President Obama for what he said was ramming through health care reform nationally without Republican support. Here’s what Romney said about that:

I like the way we did it in Massachusetts. I like the fact that in my state, we had Republicans and Democrats come together and work together. What you did instead was to push through a plan without a single Republican vote. As a matter of fact, when Massachusetts did something quite extraordinary — elected a Republican senator to stop Obamacare — you pushed it through anyway.

That’s a reference, of course, to Scott Brown. In your view, how fair is Romney’s criticism of President Obama for not getting Republicans on board with his health care overhaul plan nationally?

Well, I mean, you can certainly see why he’s saying that, and it’s true that Democrats really seized the advantage in Washington when they controlled Congress and of course the White House. And that was central to the strategy. At the same time, it’s pretty disingenuous, I think, because I think it’s clear that Republicans in Congress, from very early on, were determined to stop any kind of political initiative that President Obama had.

As you’ve said, Mitt Romney was able to achieve bipartisanship in some cases in Massachusetts. How can voters gauge whether he’ll be able to accomplish the same thing in Washington if he’s elected President?

I think it’s very much an open question because there are just too many variables. I mean, on one hand, you can look at how Romney was when he came to office in Massachusetts — very much a bipartisan figure, somebody who was not overly ideological, somebody who led from the middle. But then we’ve seen this big shift to the right. And I think it’s part of what’s keeping some people in the middle, some of those undecideds on the fence, because they may not like what’s happened the last four years, but they’re not entirely sure what they’re going to get.

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  • Masticada29

    Massachusetts was always known for its great schools so Romney can’t get credit for that. Repubulicans have been against President Obama from the start so why would he include them. Did you not see what happen during the budget cuts which included democrats and republicans? My daughter is in a predominately white school district and the children and their parents are very racist. One child said he was the worse President ever and when my daughter tried to give her opinion she was knocked down by her teacher. I know that people look at color more than truth. I’m incline to believe that if President Obama was white he wouldn’t get half the slack!
    I voted for former president Bush so for me it has nothing to do with color but it has everything to do with we the people and not we the rich!

    • oliveoylluvr

      I totally disagree with this remark. I also am from the same scenario as you are & my children again same type of school. if I had never seen his face at all or knew his race ? I have to say it has been the worst four years of my life. What was accomplished ? not a thing. We are all in the same crisis we were. the numbers may look better , the media may report increases. It’s bull . There are just many people who have given up are no longer collecting & who are um homeless ? What does that have to do with race ? if anything he shows racism himself. Working on healthcare , illegals all while the middle class drown in a pool . most of the middle class are at poverty level. what does any of this have to do with race ? Not a thing. The slack he gets is simply because of that SLACK. 

      • Concerned Citizen

        Yes, we are still working towards regaining everything the country had lost while Bush was in office.  Bush started with a surplus and ended with astronomical deficit.  Republicans have block job creation bills for years, there are bills on their tables right now that need attention, maybe they will get to them soon.  Oh I forgot, they took an early vacation this session, because their priority is not helping citizens their priority is getting President Obama out of offfice.

        • Jaimekurtz

          ” Bush started with a surplus” – and also the dot com bubble burst. In Bush’ first year, 2001, a few hundred thousand tech jobs were lost in Massachusetts alone. I know I was one of them. So, the job losses in Bush’ first year was his fault and the job losses in Obama’s first year was Bushs’ fault also. Do you see the double standard hypocrisy? Probably not.

        • Humbug1865

          Whatever happened to “The Buck Stops Here”? We have gone from that to “The Buck Stops Anywhere But Here”…It’s Bush’s fault, its the republicans in congress’ fault,  its the EU’s fault, it’s the altitude, Jim Lerher, Mitt Romney and his handkerchief..WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE!  Four years and almost SIX TRILLION DOLLARS later…NOTHING HAS CHANGED!  If you were the CEO of a company, and the person managing it..was Obama, would you renew his contract for anther four years?  If you would,  please contact me…I have this bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in!

    • 999isfine

       Were we reading the same article?????

  • tired of the lies

    I’m always surprised by the number of poor republicans?! I will never understand why someone in the low or middle class would vote for someone who has no interest in them except when they need the vote. Romney has said he would not work for the 47% of people he described. Why would you vote for someone who will pass policies that will do nothing for you but push you further down the economic ladder.

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