Put an asterisk on Romney’s win

October 5, 2012

There’s no doubt: Mitt Romney won Wednesday night’s presidential debate, and he won big.

A CNN poll taken right after the debate showed 67 percent of responders said Mitt Romney won, the highest percentage in the history of post-debate polls. Romney also was the more likable candidate on the stage, 46 to 45 percent.

Romney had succinct but robust answers to tough questions. He outlined a five-part plan for the economy and a three-pronged explanation of deficit reduction while Barack Obama seemed to talk in circles and rarely get his point across effectively. Romney’s line about “trickle-down government” resonated with conservatives who have long been bashed about supply side or “trickle-down economics.” He said he would fire Big Bird and the debate moderator by cutting the PBS subsidy, and still remained likable at the same time.

With the baseball playoffs set to begin, I’m reminded of the concept of the asterisk on a win or record that isn’t really real. For all Romney’s success on Wednesday night, his win comes with an asterisk. It’s not steroids that Romney is guilty of: it’s lying. As good as the sales pitch sounded, it rings hollow when you look at the facts.

The biggest tussle of the debate was over Romney’s tax plan. According to Obama, “Gov. Romney’s central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut on top of the extension of the Bush tax cuts. That’s another trillion dollars.” For those of you keeping score at home, that’s $6 trillion less in taxes collected under Romney than Obama. That’s before Romney finds the deductions he wants to remove, which is another thing he has to do on the first day. In response, Romney began by saying, “I don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut.”

So who’s telling the truth? Let’s ask the Tax Policy Center, a non-partisan institution. According to them, under Romney’s tax plan (a 20-percent cut in taxes across the board and an extension of the Bush tax cuts), the government would take in $900 billion less each year in taxes. Multiply that by a possible eight-year Romney administration, and you get $7.2 trillion. So you are correct, Gov. Romney. You don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut, you have a $7.2 trillion tax cut. What a nice guy the president is: he gave Romney a trillion dollars in slack.

That $7.2 trillion whopper wasn’t the only one in the debate. Romney also claimed that “up to 20 million people would lose their insurance under Obamacare,” a line that Pulitzer-Prize winning Politifact rated false. The Congressional Budget Office, the same source Romney cites, actually estimates that 4 million will leave their current healthcare plans. Many will leave for the lower-cost options offered through Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges. Four million, 20 million — who cares as long as it sounds good?

On education funding, there are more lies. Obama claims Romney would cut grants and loans to college students. Romney’s response was “I’m not going to cut education funding.” Never mind that cuts his running mate Paul Ryan proposed to education would “devastate our education system” according to the American Federation of Teachers, the National Association for College Admission Counseling and the National Education Association. Good luck selling that to the youth vote. Better just lie instead.

So what’s the takeaway from the first presidential debate? Romney had a huge victory, but he cheated. Who can blame him? It’s easy to win a debate if all your facts are made up. His record-setting victory deserves an asterisk, but Obama needs to start throwing fastballs and the media needs to examine Romney’s line-up. Otherwise, he might make the hall of fame.

Photo: Sailors assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell watch the first 2012 presidential debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Photo credit: Declan Barnes, US Navy

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared as an opinion column in The Maneater on October 5, 2012.