It's pretty clear that Mitt Romney made a big mistake over the weekend when he told voters that he speaks for "the Republican wing of the Republican Party." Romney handed rivals Rudy Giuliani and John McCain the opportunity to remind GOP primary voters about the Old Romney, who was pro-abortion rights and courted gay voters when he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate, then successfully for governor of Massachusetts. That's the Romney, who while debating Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1994, proclaimed: "I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. I'm not trying to return to Reagan-Bush."
Of course the Romney sound bite backfired -- it borrowed a page from the failed strategy of Howard "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" Dean.
Team Romney does not concede that it erred. The full Romney quote shows that Romney was not impugning other GOP hopefuls or claiming that he was the only real Republican.
Romney spokeswoman Sarah Pompei said of Romney's shift against abortion rights and gay rights, "He saw the light." The Reagan-Bush quote? "Our campaign is focused on the future," she responded.
What will the future of the Republican Party hold? There is a schism between Romney and the other frontrunners -- Giuliani, McCain and Fred Thompson. Romney is the only one to sign the Americans for Tax Reform pledge not to raise taxes, a longtime staple of GOP platforms.
"Gov. Romney is committed to keeping taxes low and cutting government spending," Pompei explained.
Giuliani spokesman Jarrod Agen said that the former New York mayor "doesn't sign pledges. You just have to look at his record. His record in New York is cutting taxes." Indeed, FactCheck.org found that while Giuliani's claim to have cut taxes 23 times was exaggerated -- as eight of those 23 cuts were initiated by other lawmakers -- the tax burden on New Yorkers declined from 8.73 percent to 7.24 percent of personal income during the Giuliani years.
ATR President Grover Norquist noted, "We may yet get McCain back on, and he did do it before" in 2000. And: "We don't want to yell at him because he's trying to get his feet back on the ground." Thompson did not sign the pledge when he ran for the Senate in 1996, but Norquist thinks Thompson might sign.
Norquist noted, Romney did not "sign as a governor. He wanted to have the leeway to fiddle." While Romney did not raise income or sales taxes, he did raise taxes (or close loopholes) on corporations.
Both Bushes signed the ATR pledge, but the first President Bush broke his promise -- and lost re-election. Norquist tells candidates, "If you don't mean it, don't sign it, because if you break the pledge, we'll go after you." But how can a no-new-taxes pledge be meaningful when big spenders like Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, signed it?
Norquist argues that Washington won't curb spending if it can raise taxes.
I used to buy that, except: Not raising taxes has not curbed spending. When Republicans pledge "no new taxes" and Democrats offer more unfunded big-spending programs, both parties engage in the unholy practice of telling voters that they can get more government without paying for it.
A Concord Coalition budget paper, "America's Economy: Headed for Crisis," noted, "Some people might believe that the federal government should both tax and spend at about 18 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), while others might believe it should tax and spend at about 30 percent of GDP. No reasonable person, however, would argue that the government should tax at 18 percent and spend at 30 percent." Uncle Sam now taxes at 18 percent of GDP and spends at 20 percent.
But the government's unfunded Medicare and Social Security promises mean an 18-30 gap could be in your future.
The no-new-taxes pledges served the American economy in the short term, but the overspending cannot go on forever. Maybe it's time for a new wing of the Republican Party -- a wing that doesn't support pledges that contribute to America's debt.