Mitt Romney, the 'Say Anything' Pol of the Republican Party

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In the lead-up to the 2012 presidential election, Republican candidate Mitt Romney was the recipient of a lot of media and political heat for having flip-flopped on various policy issues. On its face, the criticism was overdone.

Figure total rigidity in any one person's thinking speaks to someone who lacks curiosity. If we as individuals are constantly reading, debating ideas, and looking seriously at how the policies we support impact others in the real world, it's only natural for opinions to change. Romney, and all politicians for that matter, should be the most prone to flip-flops simply because they're theoretically closest to the human results of their policy ideas.

So while the bashing of a logically malleable politician in Romney was unfortunate to a degree, it was fair to ask then and it's similarly fair to ask now if politicians are changing their positions with pure politics in mind. All flip flops are not created equal as it were, and a recent change in Romney's stance on a hot policy topic speaks to political evolution of the unfortunate kind; evolution that helps explain why the electorate holds politicians in such low regard.

Asked on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" about the minimum wage, Romney said he parts ways "with many of the conservatives in my party on the issue," and went on to say that "we ought to raise it." The former candidate's statement was purely political, and a reminder that a desperate-to-recover Republican Party won for Romney losing to President Obama in 2012.

It's shooting fish in the most crowded of barrels to say that Romney's "evolution" on the matter of a wage floor was rooted in his being caught on tape during the campaign decrying the "47 percent" of the electorate allegedly too dependent on government to vote for someone like him. About Romney's assertion back then, it was very silly, but not for the reasons so often explained.

It was silly because it spoke to a man who didn't understand the basic truth about where we all begin economically. Most of us, and this even includes college grads from top schools, start somewhere in the 47 percent.  Most of us not in the 47 percent today remember low wage jobs in high school that were lightly taxed thanks to annual rebates, and we also remember something similar about our first jobs out of college.

But far from something that signaled lives that would be spent living off of government, and supportive of that same government, our years of relatively low wages spoke to work experience gained that would soon enough rocket us well outside of the "47 percent." Many of us in our days of 47 percent toil believed in free markets and limited government, and many of the '47 percenters' of today believe in much the same. Romney's utterances revealed someone who didn't understand the electorate, particularly an American electorate defined by powerful economic ambition. To put it plainly, the U.S. isn't a magnet for - even in its present enervated state - massive amounts of foreign capital because half of the population looks forward to a life of government support. Our economic doings are popular to investors precisely because many of the 47 percent are not big fans of government handouts.

Importantly, Romney's evolution on the minimum wage can't be divorced from his previous ill-conceived utterance about the 47 percent. Though politicians and hopeless pundits would say otherwise, the economic reality is that high wages are gained through the initial acceptance of low wages. It's through work experience, and experience that sometimes pays no wages at all, that we're eventually able to command higher wages. Suffice it to say, more than a few of the much demonized ‘1 percent' can doubtless point to first jobs that paid no wage, the minimum wage, or some kind of salary that didn't pay the proverbial bills.

About the minimum wage more broadly, while the existence of any kind of wage floor speaks to the most adolescent of economic thinking, the happy truth is that wage floors don't impact the vast majority of us. Most of us move beyond any sort of minimum wage (cruelly foisted on the inexperienced by the political class) fairly quickly, so if wage floors are the worst policy idea politicians will place in our way, we should be happy. Indeed, the observable reality about which we're all aware is that mostly free markets have rendered wage floors of the $7.25/$10.10 variety rather irrelevant to our economic chances.

Of course, the fact that a minimum wage won't bring the vast majority of us any harm begs the question why Romney would change his stance on the issue to begin with. A higher minimum wage is superfluous to most of the electorate, yet because the latter is true, what's also true is that a wage floor will only hurt those most in need of getting a foot in the door. In short, Romney's stance in favor of raising the minimum wage will only hurt those who need the most economic help; as in the poorest and least skilled among us.

In trying to walk back the politics of his 47 percent comment, Romney dug himself an even bigger hole for supporting a policy inimical to the economic chances of those perennially stuck in the 47 percent. Romney can't even get basic politics or policy right, not to mention what his support of artificial wages mandated by government says to small business owners arguably most likely to support him as is.

Perhaps what's most offensive about Romney's flip flop is that he no doubt knows the minimum wage is superfluous for the majority, while harmful to a small, impoverished minority. Romney's hardly a fool, and having revived sick businesses on the way to great wealth, he surely knows wage mandates help no one, and certainly don't help businesses.

All of this is offensive because it speaks to a politician who will say anything to curry favor with voters; the real world implications of his views be damned. Looking back to 2012, Romney was no doubt similarly aware that his professed policy of getting "tough on China" was not only an economically illiterate stance, but also one that, if implemented, would bring about global economic harm, a stock market crash, and if world history is any guide, perhaps war.

When we consider Romney's overtly political utterances in a broader sense, what's increasingly apparent is that the former candidate is rather self-unaware when it comes to winning votes. This matters because despite what we hear, the electorate in total isn't stupid. Not only has the electorate historically tuned out politicians running on economy-sapping protectionist planks, but the electorate is increasingly wise to politicians so public with their lack of conviction.

Considering the Republican Party itself, members of it should view the 2012 results with relief. Not only were Romney's promises about what he would do about China easily more economically crippling than anything President Obama proposed, it should also be said that Obama's re-election was the best thing that ever happened to the freedom movement. Indeed, the electorate got to see up close the horrors of big government in the form of Obamacare's implementation, and the long-term result will be a more skeptical electorate about politicians who define themselves through promises made with the money of others.

The Republicans dodged a bullet in 2012 with Mitt Romney's aimless candidacy. This was obvious back then, but was made even more obvious last week in light of his latest utterance. The former candidate will truly "Say Anything," and because Romney's that way, the GOP would have lost ground had he won. 


John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, Political Economy editor at Forbes, a Senior Fellow in Economics at Reason Foundation, and a senior economic adviser to Toreador Research and Trading ( He's the author of Who Needs the Fed?: What Taylor Swift, Uber and Robots Tell Us About Money, Credit, and Why We Should Abolish America's Central Bank (Encounter Books, 2016), along with Popular Economics: What the Rolling Stones, Downton Abbey, and LeBron James Can Teach You About Economics (Regnery, 2015). 

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