Mitt Romney, the GOP frontrunner, has never let the fact that he is really bad at lying slow him down one bit. But Romney told such a bald-faced lie at a campaign stop in Ohio on Monday that it sent Joe Scarborough, the stalwart Republican host of “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, into paroxysms of apoplexy during Tuesday morning’s show.
The controversy arose after Buzzfeed writer Andrew Kaczynski uncovered an op-ed last week that was written by Romney and published in USA Today in July 2009, during the debate over health-insurance reform. In the article, Romney urged Pres. Obama to adopt the individual mandate — the system developed by the right-wing Heritage Foundation that Romney had deployed when he was governor of Massachusetts — as the central cost-saving mechanism in the federal health-insurance reform plan:
ROMNEY writing in “USA Today,” in 2009: There’s a better way. And the lessons we learned in Massachusetts could help Washington find it.
For health care reform to succeed in Washington, the president must finally do what he promised during the campaign: Work with Republicans as well as Democrats.
Massachusetts also proved that you don’t need government insurance. Our citizens purchase private, free-market medical insurance. There is no “public option.”
Our experience also demonstrates that getting every citizen insured doesn’t have to break the bank. First, we established incentives for those who were uninsured to buy insurance. Using tax penalties, as we did, or tax credits, as others have proposed, encourages “free riders” to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass their medical costs on to others. This doesn’t cost the government a single dollar.
On the campaign trail in Youngstown, Ohio, yesterday, Romney flatly denied he ever supported federalizing the individual mandate:
VOTER: I need an emphatic yes (GIGGLES) from you that you will repeal Obamacare.
ROMNEY: Why would I not? I will put a stop to it on day one with an executive order and I’ll get it repealed through Congress … Early on, we were asked if what you did in Massachusetts should be something you’d have the federal government do? I said no from the very beginning. No. This is designed for our state and our circumstance.
On “Morning Joe,” Scarborough pressed his co-host Mika Brzezinksi and the other guests on whether Romney’s statement in Youngstown was a lie:
“You know, Mika, you flinched when I used the word ‘lie,’” Scarborough observed. “Is that what he did yesterday?”
“It appears,” Mika Brzezinski acknowledged.
“And you know, the thing is, he didn’t have to do that,” Scarborough continued. “Not to go too far off the subject, but I had called somebody in business. I asked for this person and the assistant said, ‘he’s not here.’ And the next time I saw her, I said, ‘Here’s just a friendly tip, never lie. You could have told me 1,000 different things. You did not have to lie. I knew he was in the office. Now I’ll never trust you again.’ There were 1,000 different ways Romney could have handled that yesterday. Why tell people something that they know is untrue?”
“What does it say about a candidate who [is] faced with an op-ed that he wrote a few years ago, goes in front of people, and tells them something that he knows is not true, that the press knows is not true, and that the people in the audience knows is not true?” Scarborough pressed.
Still, the consensus among “Morning Joe’s” Beltway pundits was that Romney’s crime was not lying, per se — after all, they all do it. It was that the lie was amateurish, that he could have phrased his answer in a more weaselly way and gotten away with it.