Those of you familiar with the evolution/creationism debates are no doubt aware of the term “Gish Gallop.” It is a debating style made famous by creationist Duane Gish, who would unleash such a torrent of lies, half-truths, and strawman arguments upon his opponent that they had no hope of ever adequately dealing with each point.
….while making a statement is quick and easy, convincingly refuting it takes time regardless of how inaccurate the statement is. (RationalWiki)
So did you watch the “debate” last night? Let’s get a few things out real quick. Jim Lehrer was the true loser of the debate. He lost control early and never came close to regaining it. Romney won the debate. Obama seemed defensive and while he did come out with a few nice lines, the outcome of last night really isn’t in question. Is it a “game changer?” We’ll have to wait for that answer, but everything I know about politics tells me it didn’t change anything, no matter the hysterics coming from Andrew Sullivan.
It’s not just that debates rarely change the makeup of a presidential race. It’s how Romney won. As good as he sounded last night, he won with a Gish Gallop, and now he is stuck with the things he said.
Let’s look at taxes first. The Daily Kos has a good summary here, and yes, I know it is the Daily Kos but the numbers are from the non-partisan Tax Policy Center. You can find a transcript of the debate here at the NY Times.
First off, Romney said:
I don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut. I don’t have a tax cut of a scale that you’re talking about.
Which is a lie. The Tax Policy Center‘s estimates the cost of Romney’s tax cut at $5 trillion dollars.
I want to bring down the rates down, at the same time lower deductions and exemptions and credits and so forth so we keep getting the revenue we need.
Once again, reality begs to differ. Romney says that he can pay for his tax plan this way without raising taxes on the middle class and without increasing the deficit. But the Tax Policy Center shows that even if Romney would eliminate every single deduction for high income tax payers, that still wouldn’t raise enough revenue to pay for his rate cut. So either the deficit goes up, or the middle class gets the shaft.
Then Romney blew my mind and said the following:
I’m not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people.
Seriously, I thought my head was going to explode. Tax Policy Center, please:
The Tax Policy Center calculated that under the Romney plan, even assuming elimination of all deductions and exemptions, under the Romney tax plan, the top 0.1 percent would see an average tax cut of $246,652.
Then Romney doubled down on the falsehoods:
[M]y plan is not like anything that’s been tried before.
Dude. We tried your plan the last time a Republican was president. How did that work out? And it’s not just taxes, as Erza Klein notes:
Lower taxes, fewer regulations, more domestic energy production, promises of deficit reduction that are quickly overwhelmed by increased defense spending and reduced tax revenues, and glossy rhetoric about economic freedom pretty much defined the Bush administration’s economic policy. And how did that economic policy work out?
It was a disaster.
Bush has the worst record since Herbert Hoover. Every single measure we might want to track — jobs, growth, median household income, poverty, uninsurance, new firm creation, participation in the labor force — goes in the wrong direction. And yet Romney can’t explain how his policies differ from that of George W. Bush.One of my frustrations with campaign coverage is there’s a tendency to look at substantive deficiencies in ideas as political problems. So this gets talked about as a messaging issue: Romney needs a better answer to the question, ‘how do you differ from Bush?’
But it’s not a messaging problem. Romney doesn’t need a better answer to how are your policies different than Bush’s. He needs policies that are actually different.
This is the whole deal. Romney lied through his teeth about his tax policy, which would give huge cuts to high income earners and big increases for most middle class families. He just said it wasn’t so. But it is so. It’s just math. Big tax increases on almost everybody except the wealthiest folks.
He also straight up lied about pre-existing conditions. His top advisor admitted his plan doesn’t cover those people just a few minutes after the debate.
The political question is: Can the Obama team put that reality and Romney’s lying back in the center of the debate. The next few days will tell us.
So yes, Romney won the debate last night. But by winning with a gallop, he has opened himself up for attack. You can get away with a lie in a 90 minute debate with a non-existent moderator, but reality is waiting the next morning. And it looks like the Obama team is ready with that dose of reality.
Obama senior strategist David Axelrod characterized Romney’s debate strategy as “effective in the short term, vulnerable in the long term.”
“Governor Romney came to give a performance and he gave a good performance and we give him credit for that,” he told reporters in a conference call. “The problem with it was that none of it was rooted in fact.”
Romney told the debate crowd, for example, that despite his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, “pre-existing conditions are covered under my plan.” But his campaign immediately walked the statement back afterwards, with Romney strategist Eric Ferhnstrom clarifying to TPM that it would be up to states to pass laws guaranteeing insurance coverage.
Axelrod called the pre-existing conditions pledge “an assertion that was so audacious the Romney campaign had to send someone into the spin room after the debate to say ‘Well, he really can’t do that.”
“Much of [Romney’s performance] was rooted in deception, from his very first answer when he tried to disown his $5 trillion dollar tax program which would skew to the wealthy and for which he has no way to pay,” Axelrod said.
Finally, he dinged the “serial evader” Romney being unable to “name one regulation that he would keep” after repealing Wall Street reform despite the governor’s professed support at the debate for regulating the finance industry.
“I think what you’re going to see from the campaign … is our effort to make sure that every voter out there understands exactly what the positions are that Romney danced around last night,” OFA press secretary Ben LaBolt told reporters.